Prospect #5, Cather Andrew Knizner
Age At The Start Of The 2018 Season: 23
Drafted In The 7th Round Of The 2016 Draft
TOP 5 TIME!
In conjunction with my friend Colin Garner over at The Redbird Daily, we present to you our combined list of the Top 30 Prospects in the Cardinals organization! Every other day for the next two months, From January 28th until March 29th, we will be presenting you with an exhaustive evaluation on each of the top 30 prospects in the organization starting with prospect #30 and counting down to prospect #1. This is our combined list, not our own individual lists. For additional information on how we came these rankings, CLICK HERE. Without further delay, we present...
A wRC+: 124 AA wRC+: 133
Kyle Reis (Prospect #6 On Personal List, Prior To Combining Lists With Colin Garner)
I have a confession to make. When I first compiled my top 30 list, I had Knizner in the 10-13 range. I did multiple drafts of my top 30, and the lowest I put him on those drafts, at first, was 9th.
However, before I submitted my final rankings, my colleague Colin Garner asked me an utterly harmless question in random conversation that changed my rankings. Colin asked me, straightforward and rhetorically, "how much better is Carson Kelly than Andrew Knizner?"
The answer is "not that much better."
So, what I like most about Andrew Knizner is that he's developed beyond draft expectations in just one full season in the organization. He's started to show signs of struggle as spring training comes to an end, but you saw how alive his bat could be at the beginning of spring training. The truth is, "Kiz" possesses one of the most advanced approaches in the organization. He has an advanced "batter's eye" with "plus" plate coverage, and he is rarely ever cheated out of a good at-bat.
Knizner had a dynamic 2017, even if the power numbers were more average than anything. When you see the stat line of 302/349/471/820 over two levels in the minor while reaching Double-A, you should think "Wow. That'll work." But what that stat line won't tell you is that Knizner played through illness at the end of May that lowered his stat line. He battled whatever it was that ailed him from around May 20th to May 30th, and over that period he went 1-22 in six games while trying to fight through it.
Now, this is where it gets fun. If you take out that six-game stretch, which was easily Knizner's worst stretch at the plate during the 2017 season, he slashed 319/363/499/862 during the 2017 season. When you take that six-game period out of his regular season, it lowers his strikeout percentage an entire point, from 12.4% to 11.3%. It also increases his walk rate from 5.8% on the season to 6.2%.
The beauty in this is that he still had a tremendous 2017 even with that terrible six-game stretch at the end of May. I mentioned that he showed average "in game" power, but 12 home runs and 23 doubles in less than 400 plate appearances is pretty good. That's 15-20 home run power over an entire season worth of starts. Also, I can't tell you how great the 12.4% strikeout rate is. Fangraphs can, however, and by their standards, it's considered "Great."
Knizner is capable of hitting the ball to all fields. While at Springfield, the right-handed swinging Knizner hit the ball to the pull side 37.7% of the time, up the middle 31.5% of the time, and to right field 30.8% of the time. He's a real gap to gap hitter. Nearly all of his home runs were hit to either the left field or right field gap, and very rarely did he ever just "yank" one down the line. I love seeing this out of a minor league hitter. I believe that this approach bodes well for sustained major league success. He's never trying to "do too much," and his above-average plate coverage allows him to do what needs to be done with whatever pitch is thrown to him.
What matters the most when it comes to Andrew Knizner is how he's developed behind the plate. The short answer is "he's developed well." The long answer is, in one year Knizner has gone from a questionable long-term catcher with corner infield fallback, to potential long-term catcher. As you probably know by now, Kiz converted to catcher from third base after his "Freshman All-American" season at NC State. When I watched film on Knizner entering 2017, I saw a very raw catcher that had been playing the position for a very short period of time. Assessing his long-term future wasn't easy to do. However, I had seen him play a little first base, and I was impressed by his work there.
Fast forward to the 2017 Arizona Fall League, and you hear about scouts that are blown away by the progress that Knizner has made. While splitting time between catching, DH-ing, and playing first, Knizner 358/403/537/940 with three home runs and three doubles in 72 plate appearances. His strikeout percentage was 15.2% which is high for him, but it would still be thought of as "good." It most certainly would play in the majors.
At this point, it could be argued that the only thing that Carson Kelly does better than Andrew Knizner does is block pitches in the dirt. Even then, Kelly has been disappointing in that aspect of his game during spring training while Knizner has been impressive blocking pitches. Kelly's arm is great, but I'm not sure that it's that much better than Knizner's. In 75 games behind the plate, Knizner threw out 23 of a potential 51 base stealer, good for a 45% caught stealing percentage. Even better, he threw out 50% of runners trying to steal on him at Springfield. He also only allowed three passed balls on the season. When you consider that he allowed nine passed balls in 450+ fewer innings in 2016, you start to get a better idea of the progress that he's made.
Knizner's 2017 season saw him jump over Palm Beach on his way to Springfield from Peoria. The fact that he did this during his first full season in the organization puts him on the track that Paul DeJong and Harrison Bader laid before him. That means that Knizner is on the fast track to the majors. It'll be interesting to see where Knizner starts the 2018 season. Thanks to the minor league free agent signings of Francisco Pena and Steve Baron, it appears that Knizner is ticketed for a return to Springfield. While I'd prefer that he start in Memphis, it's only semantics because Knizner will be there soon enough. My guess is, he won't be there for long. As of right now, we are on pace to see Knizner contributing in St. Louis by the end of the 2019 season, at the very latest.
With an advanced approach and strong gains defensively, there isn't a lot that I don't like about Andrew Knziner RIGHT NOW. Of course, he needs to continue to progress behind the plate. A catcher can never be too good at blocking pitches, calling games, and throwing runners out. The only thing that comes to mind that is blatantly obvious is that he needs to take more walks. I just ranted on and on about how advanced of a hitter Knizner is. I also went on and on about how advanced his approach is. It seems like a contradiction to say that, then to turn around and say "he needs to take more walks."
Sometimes in the minors, especially with highly-regarded former collegiate players like Knizner, you see players that are capable of hitting anything thrown to them swinging at everything on two strikes. That's where Knziner is at right now. This is even more common for a player with as little minor league experience as Knizner. Striking out is Kiz's enemy, and he does everything that he can to prevent that. That's a significant reason why Knizner had a walk rate of 6.1% in 2017. Now, after being drafted in 2016 it was 9.5%, and I believe that he is capable of getting it back in that range. He's going to need to, that's for sure. Even with the amount of hard and consistent contact that he makes, anything less than a 7% walk rate is going to hinder his hitting ability as he works his way through Memphis and the Major League.
One thing that I noticed about Knizner while watching him on the backfields during spring training is that he is terribly hard on himself. He was taking reps at first base during a backhanding drill, and he missed the ball that was hit to him. After that, it rattled him. You could see him shaking his head in disappointment of himself and replaying the backhand miss over and over again on the side. This desire for perfection is what makes Knizner a sure-fire major leaguer, but I hope he isn't so hard on himself. That's something that can really bring a kid down. I wouldn't even have mentioned it, but I've seen him do this a few times in spring games, now, when he strikes out or has a bad at-bat. I love the drive and desire, but I'd really like to see him adopt the "closer's mentality" and blow off mistakes. Learn from them, of course, but blow them off.
If I'm comparing Andrew Knizner to anyone, from an offensive profile point of view, it's Yonder Alonso. Sometimes we forget how highly touted and respected players were before they started their major league career. That's the case with Alonso. He was once a highly touted prospect that didn't have a robust power profile but seemed like a potential batting champ. From a defensive standpoint, I think it'll look something like Jason Castro behind the plate. Knizner could be more than all of that, though. I can't help but think that Kiz has an ultimate ceiling of Jason Varitek.
As always, these articles can't be done without Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. They are equally as reliant on the skills of Cardinalsgif's and NChill17. It's a pleasure to do this list with my friend Colin Garner at The Redbird Daily.
Thanks For Reading!