Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Acquired: 2013 MLB Draft, Round 1-A (comp balance)
Ranking History: N/A
Knebel has been on the national scene since the day he took over the closer's role at Texas, notching 19 saves and holding opponents to a .151 batting average against. In 55-2/3 innings that season, Knebel allowed just 28 hits and 12 walks with 61 strikeouts.
Entering 2012, Knebel was expected to be one of the elite closers in college baseball and he lived up to that billing with nine saves in 27 outings, including three starts late in the year. He finished with a 2.08 ERA and just 50 hits allowed in 73-2/3 innings with 68 strikeouts.
Knebel has continued his dominance in 2013, despite some issues leading to two suspensions. In 40 innings, opposing batters have picked up just 25 hits and 18 walks with 51 strikeouts. He missed time after an issue with one of his coaches and then was suspended again for providing clean urine to a teammate to help him pass a drug test.
Knebel fits the mold of a dominating college closer. He has a big, strong build with an imposing presence on the mound. He has long levers and good strength throughout his frame and can hold velocity beyond just short bursts.
Velocity is not an issue for Knebel, sitting at 94-96 mph and touching 97 in one-inning stints. His four-seam fastball sat in the 92-94 mph range with excellent life during his starts in 2012 and he held his velocity despite not being stretched out in a classical sense. Knebel will also show a 90-91 mph two-seamer with some arm-side movement, but he doesn't throw it a ton.
In addition to his plus to plus-plus fastball, Knebel mixes a hard cuveball that has earned plus grades from scouts. When he stays on top of the ball he generates very tight overhand spin and excellent sharp depth on the pitch. Knebel has a tendency to get around the side of his breaking ball at times, leading to a slurvier pitch that doesn't miss bats as consistently as the classic hammer he shows at his best.
Knebel mixed a changeup in during his starts but rarely uses it as a reliever. He shows some modest feel for the pitch, including good arm speed and some deception. His changeup is below-average now but there is some projection remaining as he begins to utilize it more.
Mechanically, Knebel is not pretty. He has plenty of effort, including a stiff arm sweep that results in a myriad of arm slots; impacting his command within the strike zone. He works down the plane of the mound and can pound the strike zone with both of his primary pitches. Command may always be an issue, but there is a chance he could at least develop his ability to locate the fastball.
There have been concerns raised over his makeup with his two suspensions this spring. He is an intense competitor on the mound and can get extremely fired up at times. He needs to focus his energy better and channel it to his benefit rather than allowing it to impact his performance or his teammates. Most scouts view him as more immature than as a problem child, which gives some hope that he can continue to develop emotionally.
Knebel has the overpowering fastball and dominating breaking ball to pitch in a setup role and possibly as a closer down the line. The Tigers have expressed an interest to develop him as a starter and there are scouts that believe this course of action could work. With improved command and continued development of his changeup, Knebel could be a number three starter that battles some inconsistency because of his delivery.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP BAA NCAA
Knebel's arm is fresh after working primarily as a reliever during his college career. He has some effort in his delivery that could raise some flags, but to date, he has not had any problems with his arm. Knebel will have to be monitored closely as he begins to take on a starter's workload.
If developed as a starter, Knebel's projection becomes far more difficult. His delivery, command, consistency and changeup must all make strides early in his development if he is to remain a starting pitcher. He has the physical build and raw stuff to make the transition work but his development in this role will be a high risk adventure.
The Tigers will always have an enticing fallback with Knebel because of his history as an overpowering reliever. He fits well in the role with his competitive mentality and two dominating pitches. Knebel will get a chance to show he can handle professional lineups multiple times through, but in the end, he still looks like a setup reliever with a chance to close during his peak seasons.
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