Brad Knox: Fighting Back To The Top

Brad Knox was arguably the Oakland A's best starting pitching prospect not named Joe Blanton at the end of the 2004 season. The big right-hander went 14-5 with a 2.59 ERA and 174 strikeouts in 156.1 innings pitched for the Kane County Cougars. However, a bad back and a sore arm stalled the start of his 2005 season. Physical ailments couldn't keep Knox down for long. The Texas native toughed it out and made all 20 of his scheduled starts. We recently caught up with Knox to see how he is feeling.

Brad Knox is one tough dude. When a normal person has a bulging disk and a fractured vertebrate in his or her back, said person will have trouble getting out of bed, let alone throwing 100 pitches off of a slanted mound. But Knox is no normal person when it comes to playing with injury. Despite the back problems, Knox wasn't willing to let the pain deter him from his dream of being a major league pitcher. Knox's fortitude is fortunate for the A's, who would have been losing one of their most promising arms if Knox had decided to hang up the spikes.

Knox was diagnosed with the bulging disk and the fractured vertebrae at the tail-end of a 2004 season that saw him be named a Midwest League All-Star after tying for the league-lead in wins with 14. Knox saw a number of doctors and was told that surgery was not the best way treat his problem, which he was told is much more common in football players then baseball players.

"It would probably be the end of my career if I have surgery, at least a 50/50 shot [of ending his career]," Knox said.

Instead, to manage the pain, Knox began a daily routine of physical therapy. He does a lot of work with cuff weights to build up the strength in his back and he regularly sees a physical therapist.

"It's really going to be a maintenance thing for me for the rest of my life. I've got to do the maintenance exercises constantly or I can't get out of bed," Knox said.

Thanks to his exercise routine, Knox reported to spring training last season ready to pitch. He spent the minor league camp working out with the AA squad and he was set to report to Midland to start the season. However, he developed arm soreness and had to stay behind in extended spring training. Unfortunately for Knox, his spot on the Midland roster closed up while he was in Arizona and the A's sent him to high-A Stockton instead.

"All throughout extended spring training, I was being paid as a Midland player, so I expected to be sent there. A spot opened up in Stockton and I was ready to go, so they sent me there. I was disappointed [not to go to AA]," Knox said.

Still, despite that disappointment, Knox was pleased overall with his progress during the 2005 campaign, which saw him go 8-7 with a 4.27 ERA in 20 starts. It was important for him to prove to himself and to the team that he could get through a season healthy and he did that.

"It was a good test for me to see what I can do and not do. Overall, I was really pleased with how I was able to pitch the whole season and I think Liepp [Keith Lieppman, A's Director of Player Development] and management were pleased too," Knox said.

"I think maybe that they thought I was still hurting and that I wouldn't be able to pitch as much as I did."

In fact, Knox was able to make all of his starts in 2005 even though he had one incident where his back flared up. However, he wasn't about to let the pain sideline him long.

"The back injury didn't really affect me during the season. I had one start where I was pushed back a day, but that was it. It locked up a bit and they were going to make me skip a turn in the rotation, but I was upset about that and said I was ready to go, so they only pushed me back a day," Knox said.

Knox didn't post the jaw-dropping numbers for Stockton that he did with Kane County, but he did have a lot of positives in his numbers. His K-rate fell from 10.02 to 7.50 and his walks increased from 1.38 to 2.74, but both numbers were still impressive. His hits per nine innings ratio remained roughly the same as it was in 2004. The biggest difference in Knox's numbers from 2004 to 2005 was his homer ratio (increasing from 0.63 to 1.05 per nine innings), which is perhaps not surprising considering that Knox was moving from the pitching-friendly Midwest League to the hitting-friendly California League. Knox certainly noticed the difference between the leagues.

"The ballparks were different. At the ballpark in High Desert, there was something like 40 MPH winds and I gave up like seven or eight runs in four innings. That was crazy," Knox said.

"Our home park, the ball goes out to right really well. I had a right-handed hitter get out in front of a pitch and it went out to right. I was covering third thinking it was a routine fly-ball and it went out."

Knox had a number of stellar starts last season, but none was better then his eight inning masterpiece against the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes on June 18th. That day, Knox took the mound at Stockton's Banner Island Ballpark and was nearly flawless, giving up only four hits and a run. He struck out a season-high 11 and walked none. That was in the middle of an eight start stretch in which the right-hander allowed three runs or fewer in all but one start.

In fact, Knox only allowed more than four runs in only four starts all season. His success may be attributed to work he did with Stockton pitching coach Scott Emerson, who has a reputation for being one of the better minor league pitching coaches in the lower levels. Knox said that he and Emerson worked on a number of things during the season, including different grips for his pitches. However, the main addition to Knox's arsenal was a change-up.

"I really didn't have a change-up before I got there and I've gained a lot of confidence in that pitch now," Knox said.

Knox went to the same junior college as A's ace Rich Harden and although both have been very successful, their similarities end with being right-handed. Whereas Harden is a flame-thrower, Knox relies on pin-point control and movement to get hitters out. His fastball sits in the high-80s/low-90s and he has a good slider and an excellent curveball. His curveball was named the best in the A's system by Baseball America at the start of 2005.

Knox has spent the off-season working out and getting ready for a 2006 that he and the A's hope will get him one step closer to the major leagues. He says that his back has been feeling great and that he is anxious to start a season he believes will be played in his hometown state as part of the Midland Rockhounds. If he is 100% in 2006, he should be once again one of the best pitching prospects in the A's system.

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