Following the 2004 season, Brad Knox was near the top of almost all of the Oakland A's pitching prospects lists. Knox went 14-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 25 starts and one relief appearance for the low-A Kane County Cougars in 2004. He struck out 174 and walked only 24 that season, opening a lot of eyes around the league.
Unfortunately, Knox finished that season with a back injury which some experts feared would end his promising career before it truly got off the ground. Knox toughed his way through an off-season of intense rehabilitation on his back before the 2005 season and came into spring training expecting to go to AA-Midland. However, arm soreness kept Knox back in extended spring training for the first few weeks of the 2005 season and he was sent to High-A Stockton once he was healthy.
Knox turned in a decent season for Stockton in 2005. He went 8-7 in 20 starts with a 4.27 ERA in the hitter-friendly California League. Knox saw his strikeouts fall from 10.02 per nine innings to 7.50 per nine innings and his walk rate rise from 1.38 to 2.74 per nine innings from 2004 to 2005.
The combination of his back issues and the reduction of his strikeout totals led to Knox being somewhat of a forgotten prospect coming into the 2006 season. His stock fell even further after a tough month of April for AA-Midland that saw Knox go 1-1 with an ugly 8.84 ERA. He was briefly sent to the Midland bullpen to work on his mechanics. That trip turned his season around.
Knox made one relief appearance, going 3.2 innings. He struck out seven in that outing and seemed to find the touch that had alluded him early in the season. Knox returned to the starting rotation after that relief appearance and went five weeks without a loss. That string of starts included an outstanding outing against Frisco when Knox went eight innings, allowing only one run on three hits.
Knox really got going at the start of July. He went eight innings on July 1, allowing only two runs on six hits, earning the win. He would go on to win his next five starts and he went 6-0 with a 1.76 ERA in the month of July. Knox was one of the best pitchers in the Texas League after the All-Star break, as he went 8-3 with a 2.11 ERA during that stretch. In total. Knox went 12-5 with a 3.67 ERA in 161.2 innings for the Rockhounds in 2006 and he was one of the Rockhounds' most consistent starters.
In a lot of ways, Knox is similar to current A's starter Joe Blanton. Both are big bodied pitchers who are aggressive in the strike zone. Like Blanton, Knox has an above-average curveball which he uses to off-set his high-80s/low-90s fastball. Knox also throws a good slider, a developing change-up and a sinking fastball which he uses to induce a lot of groundballs, especially against left-handed hitters.
Knox has a smooth right-handed delivery and he hides the ball well. Although his back will always require him to do a lot of preventive rehab work, Knox has been remarkably durable throughout his career in the A's system. He was the Midland team-leader in innings pitched, wins and strikeouts this season. Knox also did a good job keeping the ball in the ballpark, allowing the fewest number of homeruns (10) of any of the Rockhounds' starting pitchers.
Early in his career, Knox was a strikeout pitcher. However, over the past two years, his strikeout totals have gone down dramatically. Knox has been able to pitch effectively despite the falling strikeout totals, in large part because he doesn't give up a lot of hits. Knox was the only Rockhounds starter to allow fewer hits than innings pitched in 2006 (154 hits in 161.2 innings).
Knox mixes his pitches well and does a good job changing speeds. He uses his fastball to set-up his other pitches and his curveball has a chance to be above-average major league quality. He is a good athlete who fields his position well. He handles right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters with almost equal effectiveness.
Knox has had to prove to the A's each of the last two seasons that he is healthy enough to pitch full-time as a starting pitcher and he has shown that he can take the ball every five days. He has moved methodically through the A's system, starting in Rookie Ball in 2002 and moving up one level each year since then. Continuing that theme, Knox should have a spot on the AAA-Sacramento River Cats' starting rotation next season.
Long-term, Knox should have a shot at pitching at the major league level. He has quality stuff, even if he isn't a fireballer. Whether he gets that shot as a starter or a long reliever remains to be seen. If he can get his plus-curveball to be a more consistent pitch, Knox could have a career path similar to that of A's relief ace Justin Duchscherer, who was a minor league starter, but has made his mark in the bullpen. Like Duchscherer, Knox throws a lot of strikes and his off-speed stuff could be tricky for hitters seeing him only once in a game. However, unlike Duchscherer, Knox does not strikeout a lot of batters, which could make him vulnerable to ERA fluctuations in-line with his batting average for balls in play totals
Knox probably won't have a shot at a spot on the A's roster in 2007 with the A's depth in the bullpen and the starting rotation. However, he could position himself for a legitimate shot in 2008 with a strong showing in Sacramento next season.