Padres Prospect Interview: Jon Knott

Had the pleasure of sitting down with Beavers slugger Jon Knott prior to the PCL All-Star break. On a team full of interesting stories and long shots, late round draft picks and independent league refugees, Knott might be the biggest revelation of them all.

Undrafted as a high school senior and again after his junior and senior years of college, Knott has shot through the Padres organization since debuting in Fort Wayne in 2001, making his major league debut this May. With the Beavers, Knott has been brutalizing opposing pitchers, batting .308 with a .982 OPS, ranking in the top-15 in the PCL in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage.

Along with earning acclaim for his on the field accomplishments, Knott also boasts an MBA from Mississippi State University, which he began while playing college baseball and finished after signing with the Padres system. We talked about hitting in PGE Park, getting that call-up to the majors and the perils of doing your own taxes when you're a pro ballplayer.

This season you've been hitting the ball very well. What's going right?

There are a lot of factors that go along with it. This park's a big deal, I like hitting here, it's a good park to hit in. I've got a lot of guys hitting around me that are real quality guys. I had Tagg (Bozied) and X (Xavier Nady) hitting behind me for the last 2 or 3 weeks, that's definitely going to help out getting pitches. Just getting my swing down, this is my third full season, the first 2 were kind of a grind trying to play every day, getting used to your body and trying to stay healthy. But I think what it also does is it helps you groove a swing and keep some consistency with that. I think I've kind of done that so far.

You said that this is a good park to hit in; other guys have said it's a tougher park to hit in. Why does it play well for you?

I think that background back there (straightaway centerfield) is real dark and I seem to like that better than other people that kind of like a brighter park. I just think there are a lot of things that are good for me like the big right-center gap; I hit a lot of balls out there. It's not quite as hard to hit a homer to left-center over toward the left field line so I don't have to worry about trying to crush one over there, just making sure you get your hands there and getting the barrel on the ball. I think those things add up to the fact that I really like hitting in this park.

15 homers this year already, 28 last season between Mobile and Portland. Your first season not that many, split between Fort Wayne and Lake Elsinore. Did you do anything different going into last season that pushed up those home run totals?

I worked a lot in the weight room, but I think more than anything, my first year I was playing in a park that was 420 to center and, I don't know, I probably had a dozen triples, so I still had a lot of extra-base hits but not quite as many homers. I know most people think the Cal League is better to hit homers than either the Southern League or this league but I don't know. Maybe the lighting in the parks is a little bit better in each league as you go up so maybe that helped me out. Also the pitchers are a little more consistently around the zone so you're not seeing guys just hammering stuff in the dirt, chasing pitches like that. I think those are a couple things that helped out.

You made your major league debut in Milwaukee, how exciting was that?

You can't even describe it. That's been a goal my whole life, ever since I can remember playing ball, trying to play in the big leagues and I got there. I was probably nervous for the first 2 weeks I was there before I calmed down a little bit, just kind of out there, a little too excited, a little too over-anxious when I was getting my chances. Then I got a couple starts in San Diego and calmed down a little bit, got better, got my first hit and that was nice. I really enjoyed the rest of the time I had up there.

What was it like being in Boston and playing in front of the Green Monster?

That was awesome. That was my first road trip, Boston and New York. You can't get better than those two places. Playing in front of the Green Monster, my family got to come so it was a pretty cool trip.

Your first hit came after being with the team for 15 games, but you only got 7 at-bats before getting that hit.

Trying to come off the bench and being more of a pinch-hitter is really tough. I really have a newfound respect for those guys that do that. Getting in there, I got a start the day I got my first hit my first time up, so I relaxed a little bit. I got a double after that so that was a lot better. I think I'd be a little more prepared for it now if I went back up there. Trying to pinch hit, going up there your first time just trying to come off the bench is tough.

I've read that you've got journals that record every at-bat and every pitcher you face. What motivated you to start doing that?

We had those in college (Mississippi State), they kind of did scouting reports for us. I know that helped me out a lot. My first year I decided I was going to keep track of some of the pitchers, going through a long season like this knowing that I'm going to face these guys more than once and that it would give me a little advantage the next time I faced them. I've made adjustments to it, added things and taken away things. I think it has helped me out a lot.

You share some of that info with guys on the team?

Oh yeah. Most of the guys on the team come right over to me if it's been a little while since we've faced a guy or if they know we've faced him before but they can't really remember what he had. They'll just come over; it usually gives you a little refresher about what the guy looks like, what arm angle he was throwing from and what kind of stuff he had.

You were undrafted after your senior year of college and signed with the Padres as a free agent?

Yeah. I think the Padres called right after the draft and said ‘As soon as you get healthy, come out, we'll have a try-out camp for you.' It took me just about the whole summer. I went to try-out camp in September, I'd been hitting and I went out there and did pretty well and they signed me the next day. I reported to spring training in February, 2001.

The odds of making the majors as an undrafted free agent are astronomical. Do you ever stop and think, ‘Man, I'm so proud of what I've accomplished?'

Oh yeah, sure. Even guys who get drafted high, it's still tough to make the big leagues. I know I've been very blessed. You couldn't imagine how excited you are to have your dream come true. It's been a blast and this year's been pretty awesome for me so far.

While you were wrapping up your baseball career at Mississippi State, you were also working on your MBA. That seems like a pretty unique situation, I take it academics have always been a pretty big part of your life?

Yeah they have. I went to school my first year and knew right away I was going to go into business. I did all right with that, not paying too much attention thinking I was going to get drafted after my junior year so I tried to finish that up. And I did finish that up my junior year, didn't get drafted and I definitely wanted to go back instead of trying to come out of college early after being undrafted. So I went back and got accepted into the MBA program and it was pretty intense. That stuff was tough. I took a full load during the fall and the first half of the spring. But after that I took less, you didn't have to take nearly as many hours in graduate school to be considered full-time so I had a lot easier load. I went back after my first year of pro ball and finished it up after that summer. I was actually doing some stuff during instructional league. I was emailing my assignments and I got all the books and all the readings, my professors were awesome about it. They knew the situation was kind of unique but I really wanted to do it. I had already got most of the credits over with so it was a big relief to get that done.

Other than you, any of the guys in the clubhouse likely to be leafing through the Wall Street Journal on road trips?

They were just making fun of me the other day because I had it. In Tacoma as a matter of fact, so that was just a couple days ago. I was reading the Wall Street Journal because my mom does some financial planning stuff for me and I was going to give her some ideas on what to do with some of my stuff.

Here's something I've always wondered, given that you need to report income for every state you play in, how difficult is it to do your taxes every year?

It's nuts. My wife's mom is a CPA so my wife did them for us last year but this year there's no way she's going to be able to do them. Between all the different contracts that have kicked in and all the different states I've played in already it's going to be crazy. Most of the time your agent takes care of that so I imagine that's what's going to happen this year.

Sticking with the finance theme, if you had Bud Selig's ear and you wanted to discuss some of the issues with small-market and large-market teams, how would you handle that?

I'm not up on that big time, but I understand. Montreal's got to do something; they can't be doing that to the guys, especially flying back and forth between Montreal and Puerto Rico all the time. That's not just tough for the fans to follow, that's tough for the guys to play a full season like that, not even having a home yard. I think the Yankees are something to look at as well. They've got superstars that are sitting on the bench over there. When I went I was like "Holy…" – I'm sitting on the bench over here but they've got Tony Clark and Ruben Sierra sitting on the bench. That's not exactly fair, you know.

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