Erik Kratz has taken an unlikely path to the major leagues.
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A year ago, he was entering his 11th professional season having been in 11 major league games.
While he would have loved to break camp with the big league team then, his main objective was to keep a job in baseball.
A year later, the 32-year-old Kratz is expected to be the opening day catcher for a Philadelphia Phillies team that has a rotation led by Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee.
Promoted to the major leagues last summer when injuries hit the Phillies, Kratz impressed with his bat and glove enough to move ahead of recently retired Brian Schneider on the depth chart as the projected backup catcher this winter.
But when All-Star catcher Carlos Ruiz was suspended for 25 games in November for testing positive twice for an amphetamine, Kratz was moved into the role of projected opening day catcher.
”A lot of people have asked me that, and I’m not saying I know I’m `the guy,”’ Kratz said of his rise up the depth chart.
”I’m just treating it like any other spring training, just try to get ready for the season, try to be in the best shape I can be in and also be ready to play as much as they need me to play. If it happens to be that I’m the guy, then I’m the guy and hopefully I’m the guy after that, too.”
Kratz is hoping he can stick in the big leagues when Ruiz returns from suspension. If he hits this spring as he did last summer, it probably won’t be a problem holding onto a job.
After appearing in just two games with the Phillies in 2011, spending the majority of the year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Kratz hit .248 with nine home runs, nine doubles and 26 RBIs in 50 games in 2012 with the Phillies.
Upon his third promotion of the season in late July, Kratz went on a big run.
From the last week of July through the end of August, he hit .291 with six home runs. Kratz capped that 28-game stretch with a game-tying home run off Braves closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth inning of an eventual 8-5 win at Turner Field on Aug. 31.
After being a career minor leaguer who usually wears a wide receiver’s number in the back of the clubhouse during spring training, Kratz is among the rest of the regulars this spring and comfortable in his new, major league shoes.
”I’d be lying if I was saying there wasn’t any difference as far as how you’re perceived in baseball per se, because I have had success now in the big leagues,” Kratz said.
”But I can’t say, `That’s great man, I’m going to ride this.’ That’s over. It’s done. Hopefully next year you can say you had a much better season than you did the year before. That’s why we’re here right now in spring training.”
The rest of the Phillies’ major league-ready catching depth is slim. Sebastian Valle, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster, has played just 22 games above Double-A.
But manager Charlie Manuel is content to have Kratz as his regular and eventual backup catcher in 2013.
”He’s proven he can definitely catch in the major leagues and he’s our backup catcher and the pitchers kind of got used to him last year and he calls a good game, throws good,” Manuel said. ”And he can get a big hit for you. He’s got some power.”