Profile: RHP - 6'5" - 235lbs - BT:R - TH:R - 2011 Age: 20
• FB 93-95: He can reach back for 97-99 but his command and movement are much better here. (50-70)
• CV 81-83: Inconsistent but occasionally very good 12-6 action tight rotation. (45-65)
• CH 84-86: Needs work but flashes above average (40-55)
Drafted by the Phillies in the second round of the 2008 draft, Knapp signed for 600K and pitched for the Phillies for parts of the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He was then traded to along with three other players in a mid-season swap for Indians ace Cliff Lee. Though the other three players have already established themselves as elements of the Indians roster, it's Knapp that has always represented the greatest upside of any of the four players acquired by the Indians.
On the mound, Knapp works quickly and attacks hitters aggressively. His drop-and-drive motion, long stride, powerful hip rotation, and impressive scap load generates very good velocity and other than a propensity to spin off his front foot and a rather violent follow-through, his mechanics are relatively clean. It should be noted however that he had surgery to remove loose bodies from his shoulder follow the 2009 season that caused him to miss much of the 2010 campaign. While he's yet to have any significant arm issues, loose bodies always concern me, just because of the damage they can do while untreated. When Knapp finishes his pitches he can also generate very good spin rates and his offerings show plus movement across the board. However he is inconsistent in pretty much every area of his delivery, hes a good enough athlete to work through those issues, but he will need to do so to remain a starter.
A big kid coming out of high school, Knapp has only continued to grow and at 6'5" with a thick frame and broad shoulders, he strikes an imposing presence on the mound. None of that effect is lost when he unleashes his powerful fastball which works comfortably in the 93-95mph range with good arm-side run. Like so many young pitchers with power fastballs, Knapp has trouble repeating his max-effort mechanics and can lose the strike zone at times. There is speculation that if he were able to clean up his mechanics, he could add another tick or two to his fastball. Though it would certainly seem that improving his command would be the greater issue at this point.
In combination with his fastball, Knapp has a very good curveball that at it's best will have very tight rotation and a deceptive 12-6 motion. However he struggles to stay on top of the pitch and will occasionally short-arm the pitch, causing it to come off the side of his hand causing him to lose angle and spin velocity. Even then, the pitch is still strong, but more average than plus. He pairs the fastball and curveball with a developing changeup that also shows plus potential. He's plagued by the same problems with the pitch as his other offerings - inconsistent arm speed, location, and movement. Still the ability is there and he already generates solid velocity differential.
At just 20 years old with the makings of three very good pitches, we can see that Knapp has never had any trouble missing bats, regardless of level. He's also struggled with his command at every stop, none of which comes as a particularly big surprise. In order to remain a starter Knapp is going to have to refine his command over the next season or two, and the Indians coaching staff will undoubtedly be working hard with him to do just that.
It should be somewhat concerning that Knapp has yet to throw more than 85 innings in any one season. Knapp needs considerable work with his command but the Indians will need to carefully balance his need for reps and the need to protect his arm after having thrown just 28 innings in 2010.
If Knapp can't improve his command, there is the risk that he, like so many other hard throwing pitching prospects throughout the central could end up in the bullpen. How he performs in 2011 will go a long way to determining his fate, but as of right now, that would seem to be the likely course. If he can pitch a solid number of innings (100+) while maintaining a walk rate below 4.00 however, that should be enough to keep him on a starters track.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net, 312Sports.com, and 313sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog, AL Central In Focus.