Right hook, left hook, knockout

Tournaments : : Story
Matt Rodriguez        
Published: Saturday, July 12, 2014

CARTERSVILLE, Ga. – It is no secret that Baseball U Tucci Lumber brought some of the best arms in the WWBA 16u National Championship with them to Georgia for the week in Max Kranick and Jeff Belge. Throwing them both in the same game is a constant recipe for success. Kranick and Belge paired up again on Saturday in a pool play win over Marucci Elite Houston.

If you come down here with at least one arm throwing over 90 mph, you look to be in pretty goo shape. Bring two; you’re in a different league.

Kranick and Belge brought the heat to an already scorching summer day in Georgia and held Marucci to just two runs on a hit and a pair of walks.

Kranick came out of the gate throwing gas, touching 90 mph on his third pitch of the game and topping out at 92 mph a few pitches later. It was an absolutely overpowering fastball, with a plus-slider to compliment his exceptional velocity.

“It was my first time seeing Kranick and I came away impressed,” said Perfect Game scout Jheremy Brown. “Not only did he show velocity from a live arm, but he showed the ability to locate knee-high to both sides of the plate on a consistent basis. The slider showed sharp life with late break and is a true knockout pitch.”

The right-handed hurler recorded nine strikeouts after just four innings of work, all while holding his opponent hitless.

“I thought I did pretty well,” said Kranick. “I got in trouble the one inning. My off-speed pitches were good: slider was good, changeup was good, the fastball worked. I just try to get ahead and stay ahead and work my fastball. When I’ve got them in an 0-2 hole I like to throw my off-speed and work them away.”

Kranick threw five complete innings, giving up two unearned runs off of one hit and two walks, while tallying 10 strikeouts. It was a dominant performance by Kranick, whose velocity has climbed four ticks from the 88 mph he was at during last October’s WWBA Underclass World Championship, where he was named to the All-Tournament Team. However, it’s not his velocity that makes him such a highly ranked high school pitching prospect; it’s his pitchability.

“I think my accuracy with my fastball is probably my strength, and my off-speed is getting there,” Kranick said. “It needs work, but it’s getting there.”

Kranick’s baseball talent has made a dream of his come true. The 6-foot-3 thrower has committed to the University of Virginia, his dream school growing up.

“As soon as they offered me I took it,” said Kranick. “I love UVA. I love the campus. I love the coaches. They’re the best coaches in the country, in my opinion.”

Coming from the small Pennsylvania town of Jessup, where the population is a touch above 4,000 people, the 36th ranked high school prospect for the 2016 class is excited to come south for some competitive baseball at the WWBA 16u National Championship with his best friend and fellow mound force, Jeff Belge.

“I think we have a chance to win this,” Kranick said. “We’ve got a lot of great players. It’s a great time, it really is.”

The two showed just how unfair the duo can be when you throw them back-to-back. Belge came in throwing an eye-popping 94 mph from the left side, a dramatic jump in velocity since he was last seen at a Perfect Game event throwing 85 mph. The jump in velocity took everybody by surprise, including Brown. It did not surprise Belge, however, whose offseason work he attributes to the rise in velocity.

“Belge had the height last year, but he has begun adding muscle to his frame and it shows as he jumped from mid-80’s to flirting with the mid-90’s,” Brown said. “He also cleaned up his mechanics, doing a better job of keeping his front side closed and in line with his lower half, allowing him to create more leverage and use his strong frame to generate more velocity.”

“I was in the gym everyday,” said Belge. “I did a lot of band work, long toss, and just worked on my mechanics.”

The southpaw, ranked No. 16 in the high school class of 2015, came in to finish what Kranick had started, throwing a 14-pitch perfect inning and collecting a strikeout.

“I was just trying to go up there and throw strikes,” Belge said. “I had a rough one last time I was out. I wanted to get ahead with strikes and get ground balls. I thought my slider was good and I hit spots with my fastball. I just wanna get ahead, stay ahead, work work, and throw harder than Max.”

The two may be best friends, but they are also extremely competitive with each other and Belge believes it benefits them both.

“We’re really competitive, so I think we pitch to try and outdo each other,” said the St. John's University commit. “We try to outdo each other every time we’re out.”

Imagine that; one pitcher is getting his fastball up to 92 mph, so you can expect, as a hitter, the next is going to try to come out throwing even harder.

It’s not often you see such electric arms at the 16-year-old level, but to see two from the northeast on the same team pitch in the same game is a rarity on a whole new level.

“The competition down here is way better,” said Belge, who hails from Syracuse, NY. “The northeast isn’t too fun in the spring season when it gets really cold, but you get used to it after a while.”

Belge, like Kranick, is glad to join his Baseball U teammates and head south for the summer.

“I think it makes us better, playing the best of the best down here,” Belge said. “It’s a fun group. I think we’ve got a good shot to make it far in the tournament.”

Baseball U is no stranger to success. Notable alumni include Atlanta Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella, and first round MLB Draft selections Pat Light (Boston Red Sox), Keon Barnum (Chicago White Sox), Colin Moran (Miami Marlins), and most recently, Mike Papi (Cleveland Indians).

With 57 MLB Draft selections in the organization’s young history, Kranick and Belge could be just a few years away from etching their names into the club’s history books. After all, it’s not often you come across talent as good as those two. However, Belge wants everyone to know one thing:

“I threw harder than Max today.”

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