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Boston's Krall a pioneer twice over for Sea Dogs

@JoshJacksonMiLB
May 25, 2022

Katie Krall has a little magic trick. In pregame meetings with Double-A Portland hitters, the player development coach doesn’t just offer information on the day’s opposing starting pitcher. She also forecasts exactly which arms the Sea Dogs will see out of the bullpen. “The guys think that I’m a prophet

Katie Krall has a little magic trick.

In pregame meetings with Double-A Portland hitters, the player development coach doesn’t just offer information on the day’s opposing starting pitcher. She also forecasts exactly which arms the Sea Dogs will see out of the bullpen.

“The guys think that I’m a prophet because I can normally predict which relievers are going to come in out of the bullpen,” she said, admitting that the Minors’ emphasis on development over winning individual games takes away most of the challenge. “You can just basically go on days of rest.”

Nifty trick. But it’s practical science -- not magic -- that the Red Sox want from Krall. She delivers that, too.

“I’ll prep the guys like, ‘OK, this guy hasn’t pitched since Tuesday. Today’s a Saturday, so there’s a really high likelihood we’re going to see him. He’s got a splitter, and his vertical approach angle on his fastball’s pretty decent, so be aware even though it’s 92 or 93, it’s going to play like more 96, 97.’”

Krall, who’s among a crop of women breaking into coaching roles in recent years (including Red Sox Florida Complex coach Bianca Smith), is something of a pioneer twice over.

For this season, Boston has hired a player development coach for each affiliate, with Joe Cronin at Single-A Greenville, Juan Rivera at High-A Salem, Krall at Portland and Brendan Connolly at Triple-A Worcester. They’re dedicated to helping players benefit from the bountiful loads of data that have become more prevalent in baseball in recent years.

The process, which Krall describes as having “a choose-your-own-adventure component,” is more complicated than standing in front of a team and giving PowerPoint presentations about spin rates and launch angles. It’s about the recipients of the information, maybe as much as the information itself. Six weeks into the Minor League season, she knows how each player is best able to use data and how much or how little of it they find helpful.

“For example, Hudson Potts only wants to know the max fastball velo for a pitcher,” Krall said. “He doesn’t necessarily want to know their secondary stuff, or how it moves or spins. So for me, all I need to do to prepare him, from that perspective, is tell him, ‘Hey, it’s 96,’ or, ‘It’s 95.’”

Jacob Wallace, a right-hander who has 21 strikeouts over 14 2/3 innings across 12 relief appearances, tries not to think at all when he gets on the mound. But he’s relying on muscle memory and feel developed in intensive bullpen sessions with Portland pitching coach Lance Carter and Krall, who has used data to help him add life to his pitches.

“They can stand there with the iPad and have the numbers in front of them and tell you they want a little more middle finger on the ball than pointer finger,” Wallace said. “They want it to move one way or the other. That shape was good. That shape wasn’t. They want to see where you applied your pressure point, what you felt there.

“She’s always there with the answer that I need. She really knows her stuff. … Number-wise, she knows everything.”

That expertise is no accident. Krall, the goddaughter of late longtime Twins bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek, was a perennial dean’s lister at Northwestern and worked in MLB’s economics and operations department before serving as a Reds baseball ops analyst for two years. She left Cincinnati to work for Google, but within two days of her departure, she was being recruited by other big league organizations.

Player development coach Katie Krall signs for fans at Portland's Hadlock Field. 365DigitalPhotography.com

Krall was genuinely excited about her work at Google and didn’t “want to pivot back so quickly.” But when she heard the Red Sox were hiring for the position she now holds, she knew she had to go for it.

“It was the combination of working in this completely different role that I felt like would round out my skillset in many ways,” Krall said. “I was just like, ‘This is it. I have to take this.’”

The historical significance of her presence on a Double-A field staff is not lost on her. During a recent series at Hartford, Sea Dogs third baseman Brandon Howlett alerted her that some people near the dugout were asking to see her. She assumed it was somebody she knew.

“So I walk to the end of the dugout and there were two women just a few years younger than me,” she said. “They were like, ‘We’re women in sports, too. We work at ESPN. We think it’s so amazing that you’re here in the dugout.’

“In that moment, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh. It matters to them that I’m here. It’s bigger than baseball in some ways, and I don’t take that lightly. And I recognize that as a responsibility, and it’s one that I take very seriously. The fact that I can coach first base, and that a little girl might say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, who’s out there with a ponytail?’ That, I think, is extraordinary.”

Josh Jackson is an editor for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @JoshJacksonMiLB.