I attended Lake County’s contest Sunday afternoon with the Rome Braves and was able to witness the spectacle that is 18-year-old right-hander Jason Knapp in action. The “centerpiece” of the Cliff Lee deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, Knapp projects as a super-power arm capable of anchoring a rotation or being a shutdown closer. Although he is only 18 (turns 19 on August 31st) and is in just his first full season of professional baseball after being a second round selection out of a New Jersey high school by the Phillies in 2008, Knapp showcased some of his electric stuff as the Captains defeated the Braves 11-6.
Still limited to a strict pitch count in his second appearance since being placed on the disabled list for Philadelphia’s affiliate in the South Atlantic League, Knapp struck out five and did not walk a batter in his 3.2 innings. In the second inning he allowed his only three runs but only two of them were earned after a crucial error by the third baseman loaded the bases with no outs. He reached just over 60 pitches on the afternoon, allowing four hits to the 17 batters he faced and recording one ground-ball out against five fly outs. There was no pitch speed indicator at Classic Park but by all means it seemed like he was hitting the mid-90s and even displayed his plus curveball in getting a called strike three to end the third.
All in all, it was not that bad of a second outing for Knapp. Anytime a pitcher works 3.2 innings with five strikeouts and no walks can be considered a success, although two doubles and the error in the third did make his ERA jump up to 4.76 since his return to game action. More likely than not, he will continue to be stretched out for the rest of the season with Lake County and I am sure the goal of the organization is to have him spend the 2010 season as a 19 year old with Kinston in the advanced-A Carolina League and the Akron Aeros in Double-A. He has a very projectable body frame (6’5″, 225-lbs.) but will not be pitching for the Indians until his projected arrival date of September 2011.
For the season, Knapp is now 2-7 with a 4.05 ERA in 19 combined starts between Lakewood and Lake County. On the surface, those numbers might not seem so attractive but as I was telling my father throughout the contest, in mid Class A like the South Atlantic League, those surface numbers are not what the scouts and executives are looking at. They are more focused on what a pitcher truly controls, such as strikeouts, walks, home runs and hits. Although he has only pitched in 91.0 innings this season, Knapp ranks eighth in the Sally League with 118 strikeouts and his 11.67 strikeouts per nine innings rank third among all pitchers in the league with 10+ starts (recently acquired teammate Nick Hagadone is second at 11.74). He also has a 2.88 K/BB ratio, and has held batted to a .210 batting average against and has permitted a total of just three home runs in 324 opposing at bats.
Of course, it is still very early to project these numbers to Double-A later next season over even the Major Leagues in two of three years. Knapp is a very intriguing prospect who definitely has the potential to be something special in this organization. Add Hagadone, Bryan Price, Jeanmar Gomez, Connor Graham, Eric Berger, Scott Barnes and Alexander Perez to the list of solid starters below the Triple-A level, and the Indians are truly stacked with young pitching. Knapp should be the best of the pitch and it will be a lot of fun watching him in the coming years. His next start for the Captains should be Saturday, August 22nd at 7:05 P.M. in Lakewood against his former BlueClaw teammates.
(Photo via David Schofield/The Cleveland Plain Dealer)