How a skinny kid blossomed into a MLB prospect
Pitcher Dean Kremer is the first Israeli to be drafted by a major league team.
When Dean Kremer threw a 90-mph fastball for the first time, on the practice mound at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton Calif., his reaction was what you might expect. "I was pretty happy," he said with a laugh. It was the culmination of a lot of work, including a dozen or so springs and summers playing baseball, whether it was teeball, Little League, high school or junior college.
His blistering fastball also earned him attention from Major League Baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers selected Kremer with their 14th-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, but Kremer had already made draft history one year earlier. Kremer became the first Israeli to be drafted by an MLB team when the San Diego Padres picked Kremer in the 2015 MLB Draft.
Kremer, of course, was excited to be drafted, but knew he needed more experience on the college level before beginning his professional career. So, this fall, he'll begin attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV), with an eye towards re-entering the draft in 2016.
Even though Kremer is a native of the Stockton area, both his parents are from Israel, and he visited the country every summer. Because his parents are Israeli, he has a dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. He became aware that baseball had a foothold in his parents' home country when he was 11 and saw the Israel Baseball League play during its 2007 season.
By 2011, a former Israeli national team coach, who happened to live in nearby Lodi, Calif., had the skinny 15-year-old on his radar. Kremer joined the Israeli team in 2014, after representing the U.S. in a 2013 international competition.
Those games were "kind of like my tryout (for the Israel team), I guess, because I was the only guy with an Israeli citizenship on the U.S. team," he said. The Israeli national team "liked what they saw and then I continued to get better. And then they asked me if I want to come back and play and I said, 'Yes, definitely. Why not?'"
Kremer thinks the level of play on the Israeli team is at a professional level, akin to the AAA minor leagues, the last step before the big leagues. At a recent tournament in Vienna, Austria, he was named "best pitcher," and Israel placed third.
"We’re ranked No. 19 in the world and we’re ranked No. 6 in Europe," Kremer said. "The few teams that are above us are legit, like Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. Those guys are really good. Those guys are almost pro level."
Kremer has participated in baseball camps in Israel, and what surprises him is how into the game the kids at the camps are.
"I know most of the guys that are involved in the young Israel Baseball League, they know more about the MLB than I do," said Kremer, who mostly worked with 10- to 12-year-olds. "They know, like, all the stats. They all have the MLB apps on their phones. And they’re always like watching clips and games and stuff. It’s crazy."
Dean Kremer fist-bumps a teammate on the Israeli national team during a tournament in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: Israel Association of Baseball via Facebook)
Even though he was drafted as a starting pitcher, Kremer didn't even start pitching full-time until he got to Delta College. In high school, he played mostly second base and the outfield. Kremer only started pitching a significant amount during his senior year of high school.
"I didn’t start getting a stronger arm till the end of high school," he said, '"so senior year, that’s when I really started to notice that I had a good arm."
Despite Kremer's inexperience, Delta College took a chance and recruited him as a pitcher. Following the school's weight and conditioning program, he gained about 20 pounds on his 6'2" frame. The extra weight helped him reach the point where he could throw his fastball at 90-plus, and he was able to add to three other pitches to his repertoire. Since Delta is a two-year program, Kremer enrolled with the hopes of landing a scholarship at a four-year university.
"My initial goal at the beginning of the year during the fall was to just try and get somewhere for school. I didn’t even think the draft was plausible," he said. But word got out about his talent, and MLB scouts came to watch him. The four teams that took a look were the Padres, the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals.
By the time the June draft rolled around, Kremer knew that he was going to college for another year, which is what he informed the MLB teams that were scouting him. The Padres took him anyway in the 38th round, on the off-chance Kremer changed his mind. Kremer estimates he would have been picked anywhere from the fourth to the sixth round if he hadn't announced he was going back to school. It wasn't an easy decision, but Kremer felt it was the right one.
"The main influence for my decision, for me, was whether I was not physically ready, but mentally ready," he said. "I didn’t feel like I was mentally ready yet. I could definitely use a little more game experience at a higher level."
There's always a risk to passing on a chance to play professionally, of course, but Kremer would rather be ready. Not that he hasn't imagined being on a major league mound. "I think it’s crossed every 5-year-old's mind. Yeah, that’d be so cool, but ... it’s a lot of work to get there. I’m a pretty realistic person."
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