Something strange happened after Dean Kremer made his first start in Double-A last month.
He didn’t pitch for nearly two weeks.
Kremer, a 22-year-old right-hander, had just been promoted to the Dodgers’ Double-A affiliate in Tulsa. His first start went well — seven scoreless innings of three-hit ball with 11 strikeouts — but the longer he went without pitching, the more he suspected his future might change, especially knowing that his parent club was chasing Manny Machado.
On July 18, the day after the major league All-Star Game, Kremer became one of four Dodgers farmhands sent to the Orioles for Machado.
“The beginning was a little rough,” Kremer said. “The trade was expected but unexpected because I hadn’t thrown in a while after my first start. … It was bittersweet leaving the Dodgers organization. I loved it there. They pretty much made me what I am today. They really helped in the process. But these guys, I know it’s a rebuild, but these guys welcomed me with open arms. It’s a great opportunity here.”
Now, as the minor league season winds down, Kremer has had to adjust to a new level, a new organization, a new league and, for the native Californian, a new coast. He wasn’t the headliner of the Machado deal — that was Cuban outfielder and current Double-A Bowie teammate Yusniel Díaz — but from what he’s shown the Orioles so far, Kremer is equally as intriguing as the franchise shapes its rebuild.
In seven starts with the Baysox, Kremer is 4-2 with a 2.29 ERA. He’s allowed less than a hit per inning (32 in 39 1/3) to go along with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Those numbers are even more gaudy when you take into account his whole season, most of which was spent in the hitter-friendly California League at the High-A level. With High-A Rancho Cucamonga, Tulsa and Bowie, Kremer is averaging 14.1 strikeouts per nine innings and has allowed just 102 hits in 125 1/3 innings.
Kremer’s breakout comes after he went unsigned out of high school in Stockton, Calif., — the 6-foot-3, 180-pound pitcher joked in a recent interview that he was 140 pounds soaking wet and could barely hit 80 mph on the radar gun as a high school senior — and even last season struggled to a 5.18 ERA in the California League while pitching mostly in relief.
This is the first time Kremer has had the ability to be a full-time starter, and his four-pitch mix — which includes a mid-90s fastball and a curveball that both miss bats — allows him to profile as such. This will be the most innings he’s pitched in a season as a pro.
“Kremer has been impressive,” Orioles player development director Brian Graham said. “He’s commanded the ball. He throws strikes. He’s commanded the ball. He’s thrown his breaking ball for strikes. He competes really well. He’s been impressive.”
Though it’s late in the season, Kremer’s best outings with the Orioles have been his two most recent ones, a pair of scoreless six-inning starts against Richmond and Erie, respectively, in which he allowed just five hits over 12 innings and struck out 14. They were Kremer’s second outing against both teams.
“He is very bright, very much about knowledge of hitters, who he’s facing and that way he can come in with a game plan,” Bowie manager Gary Kendall said. “And he’s coming from a league where he didn’t see a lot of these teams, but he uses his resources to get knowledge on the opposition. All of his starts he’s kept us in ballgames.
“He gets deep into games. He’s got four pitches. He changes speeds. He’s got a lot of pitchability. He’s smart. He’s a hard worker. I like what I’ve seen from him. The biggest thing is the fact that he’s a strike thrower and that he knows how to change speeds. He’s got a little extra when he needs it, but he doesn’t go down as a power pitcher even though the fastball after the breaking ball, slider and changeup can really get on a hitter. And I’ve seen him speed up hitters.”
While part of Kremer’s story is that of the long blonde-haired California kid, there’s another side. Even though he was raised in the United States, he also has Israeli citizenship — both of his parents were born and raised in Israel and came to the U.S. after serving their terms in the Israeli army — and when Kremer was drafted by the Padres in the 38th round in 2015 out of San Joaquin Delta College, a junior college in Stockton, he became the first Israeli citizen to be drafted. He transferred to Nevada-Las Vegas, and after one season there, the Dodgers took him in the 14th round.
He is an Israeli citizen in more than name. He’s goes to Israel every summer, and one story called him the “Golden Boy of Israeli Baseball.”
“I know that the higher I go up, the more impact I can make over there making that side of the game grow,” Kremer said.
In a word, Kremer said, baseball in Israel is “developing.” A little more than a decade ago, a professional baseball league was created in Israel — a venture that Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette was heavily involved in at the time — but it lasted just one season. One of the best storylines out of last year’s World Baseball Classic was Israel’s unlikely run advancing out of the first round. Kremer pitched for that team after just turning 21, and was on the mound when Israel earned a WBC qualifier win over Great Britain in 2016 at the age of 20.
“They have two fields decently apart from each other,” Kremer said of the baseball facilities in Israel. “I think they just broke ground on a third field which should be up and coming and be legit in the next few years. So there’s an older wave and then there’s a younger wave. There’s guys who are around my age, and then guys a smidge younger and then the older guys. This second wave is anywhere from [ages] 8, 9 to 12, 13, 14. That’s going to be the wave that’s going to put Israel baseball on the map, I think. It’s coming.”
Playing on the WBC team — which included American players of Jewish heritage like major leaguers Ike Davis, Sam Fuld and Ryan Lavarnway — at such a young age was a huge learning experience that Kremer said helped during his year of adjustment this season.
“The WBC was an incredible experience,” Kremer said. “And the type of baseball that’s played in tournament style on a national stage is a little different than minor league, major league, it doesn’t matter, professional baseball, because you’re playing for one run, you’re playing to put your nation on the map. So everything is much more amplified and more intense. Definitely I think it benefited me.
“It was awesome, especially to be around all the older guys, guys who had big league time, guys who had minor league careers and just being able to learn from them. I’ve heard many people say that your best coach isn’t always a coach. It can be players, guys who pitch like you, guys who look at the game the same way you do. To be able to learn from that group of guys was an amazing experience.”
But it is this season that has put Kremer on the map professionally more for his performance — and promise — than his heritage. Even in his brief time with the Orioles, he’s made a strong opening impression, and given the success he’s had this season, he could become an option for the club’s major league starting rotation at some time next season at the age of just 23.
Kremer realizes Double-A is seen as the proving ground, and he knows that the Orioles don’t hesitate plucking from Bowie for their major league roster. But right now, he’s approaching it with the mentality that he still has plenty to show.
“Definitely [it’s] just [focusing on] improving every pitch to the best of my ability, learning the characteristics of every pitch, how I can make it that smidge better to make it play off one another and be able to tunnel baseballs and that kind of stuff, just basically sharpening up everything,” Kremer said. “I know I’m in Double-A now and I’m also 22, but I feel like development-wise I have a long way to go until I feel like I’d be close to ready for the big leagues. People say, yeah, it’s not that far away. It’s right there.”