Updated: May 1, 2019
THIS IS A COUNTDOWN!!!!! Over the next forty-something days, starting on February 12th and ending on March 28th, I will be rolling out my Top 35 prospects in the Cardinals organization. We call it "The Dirty Thirty-Five" because it's marketable, I think. Also, we call it that because my write-ups and evaluations are a little different. I’m kind of a quirky and goofy guy and the evaluations fit that personality. I've already written about the four players that graduated off the list. I've also written about the guys that just missed the list. You should check those out because you're going to have questions about my sanity afterwards. The article about the guys that didn’t make the D35 is really freaking good. This list is my own. It's terrible. I'm fine with it. Remember, have fun with these lists. Ranking prospects is a joke, but it's fun so treat all of the prospect ranking accordingly.
Andrew Knizner - Catcher, But More
Drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 draft
STATS AS OF 5-1-2019
As we get to the final four prospects in the organization, I just want to say that these four could be in any order. Mr. Knizner here? At one point I had him #1. What an awesome problem to have. At this point, I'm basically drawing straws. AND AT THE TOP OF THE LIST!! Don't let anyone tell you any different; these last four prospects are top 100 prospects in all of baseball, and any debate against it is dumb.
This is the story of a prospect that gets me into a lot of trouble. For so many reasons, too.
However, this is also the story of a prospect that I've done a horrible job, over the past year or so, of articulating just how much I like. The reason? Well, truthfully, it's because of Yadier Molina and Carson Kelly. Now that Carson Kelly is gone, it gives us a chance to reexamine Mr. Knizner's spot within the organization.
First, when I wrote about the top 5 catchers in the organization (Knizner was the #1 catcher by a long shot on the list) I said this about "Kiz":
"Sure, maybe when it's all said and done, the best option moving forward for Kiz is to have him playing a corner infield position to get him in the majors quicker. I will say that his defense behind the plate seemed to take a tiny step backwards during the season."
While I stand by the last part (and the first part, too), all that I was trying to say was that Yadier Molina is going to be the Cardinals catcher forever. He's under contract for two more years, but we all know that he's going to play for longer than that. We also know that it'll take either an act of god or an injury to stop him from catching less than 120 games in a season. So, to articulate, what I was trying to say is that Knizner is a gifted enough athlete with a promising bat, and his best option/chance of getting a decent amount of reps in the majors would be to workout/convert to a corner infield spot.
Of course, this was before the Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt and moved Matt Carpenter to third. So, what in the hell do I know, really?! Also, I said this before Carson Kelly was traded. When I wrote that, it looked like Kelly was destined to fill the backup catcher role of 20-30 starts per year that Yadi allows his backup to have. I was just trying to do some deductive reasoning. The Cardinals' will have none of that!
The other two things that I said during that quick write-up, was that Knizner had a bit of a down year in 2018 and that, as I mentioned, his defense took a step backwards.
Starting with the offensive side of his "down year," I am not one to invest too much into batting average. So, while it was nice to see him hit .313 on the season and raise his OBP to .368 from .349 the year before, the one area of his game that I wanted to see increase (his slugging) did not. As a matter of fact, it decreased from .471 to .430 and it was enough to drop his OPS to below .800, albeit by two points.
I want to make it clear when I say that his season wasn't a disappointment by any stretch. A catcher with his abilities at the plate is extremely rare, and he's extremely valuable, especially from a commodities standpoint. However, his strike out rate increased (MODESTLY), and it didn't come with power. To me, that means that he had a bit of a down year as compared to his AMAZING AND AWE-INSPIRING 2017 season. Still, this young man had a GREAT season.
That brings us to his defense. One of the things that I love about Knizner and his genetic makeup is that he's a smart young man, and he's appropriately self-appraising of himself. I'm willing to bet that these are genetic markers that have been passed on by his family. So, I'm willing to bet that he'd tell you on his on accord that he was a better catcher at the end of 2017 than he was during the majority of 2018.
During the Arizona Fall League at the end of the 2017 season, there didn't appear to be much separating Kiz from some of the top catching prospects behind the plate. But in 2018, he seemed to get a little extra "swipe-happy" with balls in the dirt, and the pitch framing data, I've been told, did not favor him. Again, don't be surprised if these concerns are eradicated sooner rather than later. He's just that smart, talented, and naturally gifted.
You'll also notice that the stats show a catcher that was successfully run-on a ton. While it is a bit of a concern, I would tell you to not invest too much into those numbers. Most of the Cardinals' pitchers are slow to the plate. That, or they do a terrible job of keeping runners close to the bag. With some of the pitchers, it's both of these things. I've watched nearly all of the stolen base attempts on him during his stint at AAA, and the vast majority came as a result of how slow the pitcher was to the plate. It's an epidemic at the upper levels of the organization, and the catcher's stats lag because of it. Make no mistake, "Kiz" has a solid pop time and an above-average arm. His framing (he gets stabby, and often, with the glove) and his blocking need to get better, for sure. That shouldn't come as surprise for a player that has only been catching for four years. I'd venture to say that he's further along than other players with similar experience behind the plate.
I also want to put this entire quote-paragraph aside to say that I truly believe that Knizner will stick behind the plate. He'll improve and clean up these areas. He's too good/athletic/smart/dedicated to not stick. The question for him will always be opportunity, so long as Yadier Molina is THE catcher in the Cardinals' organization.
So, where are we at the moment? Well, we have a catcher that I believe will stick behind the plate, but that still needs work. We have a hitter that profiles as a major league contributor, and in the immediate future. So, I guess the next question is "what makes you sure that Knizner is going to be a contributor to a major league lineup?"
The answer to that question has many parts. First, there isn't a player on the farm that can put the ball in the opposite field gap as well as Knizner can. Even more, he does this extremely well in both pitcher's and two-strike counts. Knizner has a professional approach at the plate, and a compact and direct swing to match. He can cover a ton of the plate, and he has great lower-half torque.
Because of how advanced and professional his approach is, he won't be beat as often as other prospects by two-strike breaking pitches by like-handed pitchers.
So far as I can tell, the only hole in his swing is on elite-heat up in the zone. He's fine belt-high with these pitches, but anything above the belt gets dicey. Again, I'm talking about 97 MPH and higher with life. Other than that, he handles it. It's a lot of fun to watch one of Knizner's at-bats because it feels a bit like a chess match. The good news here is, Knizner understands hitting so well that he usually has the upper hand. Look at how quick and direct his hands are, and how perfectly motionless his head is:
Andrew Knizner is the one position player on this list of the top prospects in the Cardinals' organization that I believe could play in the majors right now. Again, I don't have the slightest idea or notion in regards to how this catcher thing is going to play out over the coming seasons, but Knizner has the makeup of a player that could make an All-Star game during his career. He's such a smart base runner, too. He's just such an impressive young man. He's smart, and strong, and athletic, and dedicated. He possesses all of the tools needed to max-out his skills. (Editor's note: Tommy Edman would fit in here, now, in hindsight. Not in regards to a potential All-Star appearance, but as a player that appears to be ready for the majors right now).
Now, that brings us to Kiz's 2019 season. What will I be looking for? Well, power. I don't want him to sell out to hit 30 home runs. However, his swing is so damn short and quick and perfect, and his approach and plate coverage are too good for him to hit less than ten home runs in 350+ minor league plate appearances. I do think that his major league total over 400 plate appearances will be around the ten mark, but he should be hitting more than ten in the hitter friendly PCL during the 2019 season. The other thing that I want to see happen, is I want to see him get back over the 20 doubles threshold. He hits the balls so well to both gaps that, with a little extra juice, he should be able to turn some of those singles into doubles. A .430 slugging percentage from a catcher is perfectly acceptable, PERFECTLY, but Knizner is better than that. How awesome is that?! And let me make this last point clear: I COULDN'T BE ANYMORE NIT-PICKY THAN I'M BEING RIGHT NOW.
THE BOTTOM LINE
For many years now, Andrew Knizner, Randy Arozarena, and Ryan Helsley have made up a trio of my favorite prospects to watch. All three have a promising future that should really start to blossom, from a major league standpoint, in 2019. While I'd still like to see an increase/rebound in the power department from Knizner, and a better job of blocking and framing, I have no doubt that he'll be ready to answer the call if Yadier Molina has to miss extended time because of an injury during the 2019 season (I wrote this before the Cardinals signed Matt Wieters. The sentiment still applies). I can promise you this: It'll be way better than what we saw out of Carson Kelly, and it'll probably be enough to make you want him to stick around. One more time, bow down to him because he's also dating a Miami Dolphin's cheerleader and I hate my life again.
**SPRING TRAINING UPDATE**
Mr. Knizner has had a great camp during spring. He's had a few issues throwing the ball, but he's done great behind the plate, otherwise. We did see him struggle on a couple of different attempts to gun base-stealers out. It might have made you worry about his arm strength, but it turned out to be more of a glove-transition issue than anything else.
His bat has been pretty impressive, as well. entering the start of business on Wednesday 3/20/2019, Knizner was hitting 240/269/440 with one walk, four strikeouts, two doubles, and THIS MONSTER HOME RUN in the .gif below. This is, easily, the furthest that I've ever seen him hit a jack, and it's the reason why I keep telling everyone that he has more power in the tank than he's shown:
MAY 1st UPDATE
Welp, Andrew is doing what he does, and that's hit. There isn't any over the fence power here and that sucks, but I still maintain that it'll come if Kiz lets it. Anyway, the Cardinals have three catchers at AAA and Kiz has been playing a lot of DH and that's just STUPID on behalf of the organization, anyway that you cut it.
Thank you to FanGraphs for the stats.
Thanks For Reading!!