The Makings of a Breakout: Andrew Knapp

I am going to start by saying that this subject deserves more space than I about to give it, because it is meaningful, but this better than saying anything at all.  Andrew Knapp is the middle of just destroying the Eastern League (he probably got another hit somewhere while you read this sentence).   After hitting .262/.356/.369 in Clearwater he is now currently hitting .406/.451/.688 through 35 AA games.  If you read this blog you already know that those numbers are in no way sustainable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t meaningful take aways.  So let’s just quickly talk about all of this, because frankly this has caused me to watch a bunch of Knapp footage and due some deep dives into the stats.

The Defense:

I want to start with the negative on Knapp, because it is a serious one.  The really bad is the arm.  It was above average before he had Tommy John surgery, but the arm strength might be average right now and as far as I have seen it is pretty accurate.  But his release is not particularly fast and I have gotten him off video popping in the 2.0 to 2.1 range, which is a 40 arm behind the plate.  For reference Deivi Grullon pops sup 1.85 with regularity and I have timed Jorge Alfaro in person at 2.00 when he took the time to gear up and set before unleashing a supersonic bullet to second base (seriously I have never seen any non-pitcher throw a baseball as hard as Alfaro).  The arm strength is likely not coming back, but if he can clean up the release and get more in the 2.0 range, he won’t help his pitchers out, but he also won’t leave them hanging out to dry.

As for the receiving, there are pieces here.  Knapp is a good athlete, he seems to understand the game, and he really tries.  I realize this all sounds a bit patronizing, but what I really want to point to is a number, and that number is 141.  That is how many games Knapp has played at catcher in pro ball since being drafted in 2013, his 78 games this year is more than his first two years combined.  He was only a full time catcher during his junior year at Cal (he was a catcher in HS) and the reports on him coming out of the draft where that his receiving needed work.  So the point of all of this is to say, that he isn’t going to match Deivi Grullon behind the plate for best defender in the org, but there are the pieces to be average behind the plate.  It is going to take time and lots of reps to get there, but there is no reason to move him off the position right now.

The Bat:

Knapp has a fairly simple swing (from both sides), nice even line drive path with a bit of loft.  There isn’t elite bat speed, amazing hand-eye coordination, or big strength and leverage to it.  He isn’t going to be a guy like J.P. Crawford or Nick Williams who is going to be a master of contact and the strike zone, but that is fine, he doesn’t need to be.  His current AA home run pace is a bit unsustainable, but he could challenge 10-15 a year with a bunch of doubles if he can get himself a full year of ABs.  His approach is also solid, again not elite, but there is nothing to really have huge marks against him.

So what is sustainable to his year?

For one his career numbers are deceptive.  His line says he hit .260/.324/.385 in 2014, but that includes a disastrous 23 game in the FSL where he was working his way back from injury where he hit .157/.222/.205 with 5 walks and 26 strikeouts, he even hit .255/.327/.319 with 15 strikeouts over his first 13 games in Lakewood leading up to their All-Star Break.  He would then hit .297/.359/.462 with 23 walks and 56 strikeouts over 62 second half games.  He had a similar slow start in 2015 where he hit .263/.310/.350 over 19 games with 6 walks and 25 strikeouts.  He saw his strikeouts drop in both May and June while his walks and power numbers increased.

But all of that doesn’t really fully show what happened to really complete the picture on Knapp.  However, this might help, here are some batting lines:

56 AB 5 2B 0 3B 0 HR .214/.286/.304
23 AB 0 2B 0 3B 1 HR .130/.167/.261
92 AB 6 2B 1 3B 0 HR .250/.317/.337
88 AB 4 2B 0 3B 1 HR .216/.296/.295
30 AB 5 2B 0 3B 2 HR .533/.588/.900

Those happen to be Andrew Knapp vs LHPs while he is batting from his right side (in chronological order).  As with all of this, that AA line is not sustainable, but he has suddenly found the other half of his switch hitting, and he found it with power too.  There is a big total stat line difference when you are not punting a third of your ABs.

What Now:

Knapp has passed Grullon to move in as the second best catching prospect in the system, which is fine because Jorge Alfaro might be the best catching prospect left in the minors right now.  As for Knapp and Alfaro, it is a great problem to have.  If both prove they can play catcher, it leaves the Phillies with a couple of choices, they could trade one (like the Reds did with Mesoraco and Grandal), they could move one off the position, or they could play them both while getting them ABs elsewhere.  If only one can stick behind the plate, well that is easy because you can move one to another position (Knapp might be able to handle LF, Alfaro could play RF or maybe 3B).  But either way the Phillies now have absolutely no need to rush Alfaro and with their current state they can take their time on both and give them more chance to stick behind the plate than a team needing to compete right now.

Photo by Baseball Betsy

Author: Matt Winkelman

Matt Winkelman
Matt is originally from Mt. Holly, NJ, but after a 4 year side track to Cleveland for college he now resides in Madison, WI. His work has appeared on Phuture Phillies, The Good Phight, and TheDynastyGuru.

14 comments

  1. The original Will

    Honestly, given that he was a high draft pick as a bat first catcher out of a major college program, I feel pretty good about this breakout being sustainable, in the sense, that I am inclined to think his true bat skills are better than he showed over the first 2+ years of pro ball. Obviously not saying he will hit .400, just that I had expected more than a mid .700 OPS in age-appropriate leagues, and now that we’re getting it, I believe in it. Even if his defense only gets to 45 overall, if he slashes, say .280/.330/.430, that is a valuable player and a valuable trade chip if Alfaro also pans out.

    I realize you put your rankings together while this breakout was still early, and you probably didn’t take it much into account. If you had to do it over any changes to where Knapp sits for you?

    • Matt Winkelman

      The big part of the breakout came after publishing, though he slowly climbed throughout the process (which is why quoting past rankings is a bit silly because these things are always changing). Without spending a ton of time on it, he is in the Altherr/Kingery group but going more granular than that requires a lot of revisions.

      • The original Will

        I wasn’t expecting you to be so bullish, honestly, but I do agree, though I might be even more aggressive and put him with tocci and quinn. Position scarcity and proximity make him really compelling to me.

  2. Travis

    Of the catchers currently in the organization, who are likely to be the 2 catchers on the MLB team June 1, 2016? If not Ruiz and/or Rupp, do either have any value on the trade market?

    • Eddie

      Rupp is a fungible replacement level guy. Someone might give a lottery ticket for him if there’s an injury situation that’s about it. Given his contract Ruiz has zero value, except maybe for a situation where the Phillies eat his contract and some contender wants a vet down the stretch. I’d just as soon as they keep Ruiz around as a kind of player-coach.

  3. gkit

    The batting lines you list as against RHP, shouldn’t that be against LHP. I thought it was the LHP that were giving trouble before the move to AA.

    • Matt Winkelman

      You are absolutely right. I did the whole thing where you do too many double negatives

  4. Romus

    Alfaro sports a higher Krate and lower OBP factor then Knapp.
    It will have to be his defense, with that arm especially, that will carry him to be the Phillies catching duties.

    • Also, reputedly, a ton of power in his bat, although that is raw power which may or may not develop. He’s not a super-HR guy yet, but since leaving DSL he has had more than 1 XH/10 AB. Yeah, he does K too much and not walk enough.

      • Matt Winkelman

        And is also younger than Knapp by over a year and a half

      • Romus

        Both red-flags.
        But more so with Jorge Alfaro. He has more PAs, with a 4/5 % higher Krate and half the BB rate….though Knapp’s BB rate of 9% is nothing to brag about.
        I like Alfaro’s power potential….but, IMO, he only projects as a .265//325 BA/OBP guy in my book….but with 20/25HR potential.
        But his defensive abilities behind the plate may be the difference maker.

        • Philly SF

          Yeah the cannon arm of Alfaro , is a huge assets, look what Yadier does to other teams running game, and i think 265 and 325 with 20 -25 bombs is damned near all star if he can eliminate other teams running game, if he can become that guy , trading Cole Hamels will hurt a lot less

  5. Ed

    Matt writes his report, and the homers keep coming from Knapp! At one point is it no longer a small sample size? Still agree its not sustainable but its starting to make me wonder.

    • Aron

      At the point he is hitting those HRs in Lehigh Valley and not Reading.