Andrew Knizner (Brian Walton / The Cardinal Nation)

A proven college hitter maintained his momentum in his first professional assignment with Johnson City.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues with a strong-hitting first-year catcher at #45. FREE report!

http://www.scout.com/player/209596-andrew-knizner?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA C/1B 03 08 88 2016 7th

Selected 2016 stats

Tm AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
JC 0.319 0.331 185 35 59 12 6 42 21 21 0 0.420 0.423 0.492 0.915

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (42): Andrew Knizner finished a little better in the community vote at #42. The newly-drafted catcher out of North Carolina State began receiving support in the vote at #35 from bccran.

The first mention of Knizner came from SoonerinNC who mentioned the catcher’s solid performance at the plate, albeit in a rookie league. Bccran noted that Knizner was named to the Appalachian League’s post-season All-Star team, as the best catcher in the league. BobReed stated that Knizner showed some pop and plate discipline that he didn’t display in college and that Knizner threw out 12 of 26 would-be stealers. Cardinals2016 pointed out that Knizner is a converted third baseman, giving him potential flexibility if he cannot make it as a catcher exclusively. - Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (43): When advancing to a higher level of baseball, Knizner is accustomed to a quick transition - first as a Division 1 collegian for the NC State Wolfpack and now as a professional after being drafted in the seventh round by the Cardinals this past June.

Knizner, 21, was the first Wolfpack freshman to earn all-conference in the ACC since Carlos Rodon in 2012. Despite his OPS dropping each of his last three seasons with NC State, the Glen Allen, Virginia native finished his career slashing .292/.359/.388 with six homers and 30 RBI. It was the upside with the bat that drew the Cardinals’ interest.

Considered a tough sign as a junior, Knizner ultimately inked for a $185,300 signing bonus. Just two and half months later, he was not only recognized as an Appy League Postseason All-Star but helped the Johnson City Cardinals to its fourth title in seven years after posting a stellar .319/.423/.492 line with six homers, 42 RBI, and having an impressive 21-to-21 strikeout-to-walk count.

“I would say he was probably our most consistent guy as far as steady production all year long,” said Chris Swauger, Johnson City manager. “He never really had prolonged slumps or super high, highs like he was just very consistent and very productive the entire season.”

Though his offensive production dipped in college, Knizner's defense improved immensely. He has good arm strength, but needs time to smooth out his receiving and blocking skills as he is presently below-average defender. In his draft year, the Cardinals eased the former third baseman into action behind the plate, squatting for 21 games while playing 19 games at first base, allowing him to get used to a wood bat and he entered the professional ranks.

“He has a lot of leadership qualities and he takes charge of the game,” Swauger added. “He loves to catch. He was coming to us off his first college season as a catcher, so we didn’t want to burn him out plus we had multiple catchers on the team. We were able to ease him in and he did a really nice job adjusting to pro ball.”

The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder generates good raw power and scouts like his feel to hit. He was once a high-contact righty bat and his numbers indicate consistent contact this past summer, so that is only a plus. There is not a ton of room left to fill out in his frame, but he is a former academic All-American and is described as an "advanced, savvy" player by Cardinals officials.

“He is a guy that has an advanced approach,” his manager also said. “He ended walking as much as he struck out, which at our level is very rare. He gives a good at-bat. All of his swing mechanics are there. You see the size, the plate discipline. He’s got a lot of stuff that hard to teach, so there’s the natural ability and talent.

“With him as a hitter, you can talk advanced things like pitch selection, sequencing which is kind of a double whammy because you would do the same thing with him as a catcher. Sometimes we would have to bring him back down to the level of the games he would call because he is doing things sometimes our pitchers couldn’t execute. For me, that’s a positive because of his advanced thinking and his advanced approach to everything. It will only serve him better as he goes higher.”

At the time of his draft selection, this seemed a fairly limited pick in terms of upside. Knizner is an intriguing prospect if he is able to stick behind the plate while remaining at least competent with the bat. If not, it is tough to imagine how his bat and defense would profile at a corner infield spot.

“He really showed me he could handle being behind the plate,” Swaguer said. “In my opinion as he goes further in his career, he is going to be able to handle it on an everyday basis or at least the majority load of catching. The way he takes care of himself and the way he goes about his business - I think he’ll definitely be able to hold up throughout the grind of a season.

“What impressed me the most about him was the days he didn’t play or days he was DHing. His attention to detail of what the pitchers were throwing for us because he knew at some point he was going to be behind the plate for those guys. His ability to see the game and watch the game is something you don’t see in guys until they get to higher levels. On his off days, he was always locked in and taking notes on hitters and our pitchers.

“He was very attentive to what they were doing to make himself better. It is no coincidence that he caught all the games that we won in the playoffs because that’s the kind of guy you want behind the dish, controlling the game.”

 

Brian Walton (51): Perhaps I am too slow to jump on the Knizner bandwagon. Certainly, my ranking compared to the other two voters suggests that. My concern is rooted in a past in which some polished college hitters perform well in their first professional action in the Appalachian League, only to stumble against better pitching in Class-A.

In all fairness, since the Cards’ had taken Southern Cal’s Jeremy Martinez in the fourth round, it only made sense that he handled the catching duties at State College with Knizner assigned one step lower at Johnson City.

There is no doubt that in 2016, Knizner delivered on what he was asked to do. Placed in a run-producing spot in the lineup after signing out of North Carolina State, the 21-year-old produced, with 42 RBI in 53 games and an equivalent strikeout and walk total. A third of his hits went for extra bases, leading to a slugging percentage just short of .500.

That was a good initial return for a seventh-round pick. As an aside, I don’t know if Knizner was a tough sign or not, but the fact he quickly came to terms at the exact slot value for his pick within a week of the draft suggests not.

Defensively, Knizner spent roughly a third of his time at Johnson City behind the plate, another third at first base and the rest as the designated hitter. You can decide how to view that, but it is important to recognize the reality of larger rosters at the lower levels and the coaches’ desire to see more players in action.

From the Cardinals view, here is Minor League Hitting Coordinator George Greer, explaining in a general sense why the organization values having catchers who can also play first base. Other 2016 examples include Ryan McCarvel at State College and Chris Chinea at Peoria. The former is unranked, while the latter came in at our Cardinals number 50 prospect for 2017.

“That defensive versatility is great,” Greer said this fall. “Every team is looking for a third catcher. They are looking for a catcher who can also play multiple positions, so they are hoping it comes to fruition that they can catch and also play another position. It kind of expands the roster for a manager.”

From my vantage point, if Knizner has the catching tools and is able to improve enough to stay at the position long-term, he is a much more interesting prospect than as a third catcher-utility man. I cannot fully assess that yet, adding to my ranking uncertainty. We will certainly learn more about Knizner in 2017.

TCN Scouting Grade: 4, High: Extreme (click here to review scales)

 

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