Top 50 Prospects: #33 - Justin Knoedler

The Giants have made a bit of history of moving catchers out of catching in their farm system, but Knoedler's future looks like it's set in the battery. This blue collar player may not be the most exciting, but not all prospects have to be.

Date of Birth: 07/17/1980 Position: C Height: 6'2" Weight: 215 Bats: R Throws: R
Acquired: Drafted in the 5th Round (#166 Overall) of the 2001 Draft
2005 Stats
Norwich - AA .300 .417 .300 .717 10 2 3 0 0 0 0 2 0 2 1
Fresno - AAA .272 .345 .387 .731 287 35 78 19 1 4 32 26 61 5 5
Mesa - AFL .226 .268 .415 .683 53 9 12 1 0 3 22 3 10 0 0

If you’ve been a catcher in the Giants system, chances are you’ve also done something else. Two catching prospects, Todd Jennings and Pablo Sandoval have been moved from the position to other spots. And then there’s Knoedler, whose minor league career path could be entitled ‘There and Back Again.”

Knoedler was a catcher in college, but a broken hand had sidelined him and the Giants valued his arm, so they drafted him and made him a pitcher who lived on a mid-90’s fastball. But a shortage of catchers in the system prompted the Giants to move him back to the backstop in 2002, and he’s made steady progress since then, spending most of 2005 in AAA. The only problem was that the Giants had minor league free agent Yamid Haad in Fresno as well, Haad hit somewhat better than Knoedler, and forced Knoedler to split the playing time, even moving Justin back to AA briefly before Yorvit Torrealba’s trade and Mike Matheny’s bereavement leave prompted the Giants to call up both catchers.

Knoedler took a small step backwards offensively, hitting only 4 home runs in a hitter’s league in the PCL. Knoedler simply has too many problems making contact, so he relies on an ability to take walks and his strength to pop enough home runs to keep his bat worthwhile. The good news is that Knoedler stayed healthy and remains a very good catcher defensively. Knoedler’s work ethic gives him an edge in a very cerebral position, and former Giants pitcher Brett Tomko praised Knoedler heavily for calling a great game in his first major league start this season. And, of course, there’s that arm, which is as strong and as accurate as it gets for a catcher.

The future for Justin looks solid, but he will never be a big name major league player. He may have lessons to learn from Yorvit Torrealba’s stay with the Giants, because their games are similar. Knoedler’s defense and arm will eventually carry him into a job in the bigs, but it may never become more than a backup unless a light turns on for him with his swing and he can make more consistent contact. For 2006, he’ll be competing at least with another free agent, Eliezer Alfonzo, for that backup job. If he doesn’t win it in spring training, Knoedler will be back in Fresno, where it’ll behoove him to push himself offensively.

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