Portland, here I come

During the 2003 season at Mobile, the lineup struggled to manufacture runs. The BayBears finished last in the Southern League in team batting average at .238, 32 points behind league-leader Birmingham. Timely hits from anyone not named Jon Knott were absent. Khalil Greene's promotion didn't help. San Diego Padres' prospects must adapt and Knott became the poster child for such talk.

"Greene was hitting third and Knott was hitting fourth and we never had anyone emerge in the five spot that would force pitchers to throw Jon Knott strikes," said one Padres scout.

Logic would state Knott faced tougher pitches when Khalil Greene was promoted to Triple-A.

"A little bit," says Mobile BayBears announcer Tom Nichols. "Greene was in the three spot."

Generally, better pitches are dictated by the person hitting behind you in the order. By that rationale, Greene should have been the guy to prosper with Knott batting behind him. That didn't happen and Greene moved on to Triple-A and showed he belonged by prospering at a higher level. Meanwhile, Knott was stuck in hitter's purgatory with the BayBears.

Was Jon Knott facing tougher pitches in Mobile without protection behind him?

"I think that was kind of it and it didn't really matter (who was behind me) unless someone else was hitting a bunch of home runs and driving in runs," says Knott. "Our manager was just trying to put anybody back there that would produce RBI's so they would pitch to me and they would get hurt if they didn't."

I guess that didn't happen?

"Not really," Knott admits.

Yet, Knott was "the man" in Mobile. While toting a .252 batting average, he led the team with a .387 on base percentage.

He may not have seen the best pitches, but he got on base and led the team in RBI's with 82, 22 more than his closest competition. He also slugged 22 more extra base hits than his nearest competitor in that category.

Simply put, Knott made the most of his at bats.

"He was a money guy for us," said the Padres scout. "If you had a chance to have a guy up there with the game on the line, he would have been your guy. A very productive hitter, probably the best hitter as an individual in the last three or four years."

Jon Knott has emerged from pseudo-prospect to super-prospect in a span of two seasons. In a lineup largely devoid of talent, Knott flourished as best he could.

In the home stretch of the season, Knott was rewarded with his own Triple-A callup.

"It was (a nice feeling)," said Knott. "I had a lot of fun that last week and I know those guys up there in Triple A were having a lot of fun. They had a good team so they were winning a lot. So that was a lot more laid back atmosphere up there."

Ironically, Craig Colbert, who managed Mobile in '03, will move up with Knott. Colbert won't be faced with the difficult prospect of finding someone to bat behind Knott as Portland as the talent level, in terms of batters, is potentially full of promise.

"I guess we have already had a year under our belts together and I got along with him fine," Knott said. "I thought he was great. I guess that is where they plan on me to go for next year, Portland, and basically they say that league is a lot better for hitters so I am kind of looking forward to that."

Knott will miss some of his southern roots from his Mobile days.

"I liked being down there in the southern area," Knott said. "I was kind of familiar because I went to school in Mississippi so I had some buddies who got to watch me play every now and again and my family lives close to Orlando so they got to come up there watch me play."

One step closer to the Majors is the tradeoff and Knott is more than happy to leave Mobile behind with the greener pastures of Portland and the Pacific Coast League in his sights.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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