Few positives came out of Yadier Molina’s injury.
The initiative to purchase bullet-proof athletic cups can be considered a positive, but since the action preempting that purchase was still Molina’s injury, I’d consider the net effect negative.
Carson Kelly slotted in as the team’s primary catcher, but that still isn’t far enough removed from Molina to brighten my spirits. After Kelly assumed this role, he too caught the injury bug. Compounding negatives set us back even more than merely one catcher on the DL, which means I probably shouldn’t have mentioned this at all.
Digging past the major league level, however, allows for a distant positive to emerge: Andrew Knizner’s promotion to Triple-A.
Emerging from North Carolina (NC) State in the seventh round of the 2016 MLB Draft, the 6-foot-1 righty played another 53 games in Johnson City before his initial professional season ended. Knizner then saw reps with Peoria and Springfield in 2017 before settling in with Memphis for the first time in 2018. The injuries mentioned above and further movement to fill holes at the major league level opened the door.
Knizner’s road has been consistent, with little struggle outside of a few expected blips. The package is highlighted by a batting average above .300 in nearly every sample of professional baseball, a slew of above-average on-base percentages, and respectable slugging thanks to a combination of doubles and homers.
Advanced college bats progress quickly through the minor leagues (especially compared to their high school counterparts). This will be incessantly mentioned as the 2018 MLB Draft approaches (June 4). But the phrase “MLB-ready” doesn’t exempt talents from adjustment.
This theory can be applied to Vanderbilt outfielder, Jeren Kendall, from last year’s draft who made a quick swing change when he hit the professional circuit last year (pre-adjustment; post-adjustment). I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same application occur with a consensus top-six pick from Oregon State, Nick Madrigal, and his aggressive leg kick as the draft nears.
This theory applies to Knizner as well.
Knizner’s most apparent adjustment is the lowering of his hands. My rummaging through video suggests this was given some thought during 2017, as Knizner’s hands appear to loosen up by the time he hit Peoria in early 2017, with a more noticeable drop confirmed during the middle of 2017. My timeframe could be slightly off, but the resounding point is that an adjustment did in fact happen from his time with NC State.
“Anytime I changed hand position, or talked to someone who was making the adjustment, it was for comfort and confidence.”
Bobby Stevens Jr., Owner and Lead Hitting Instructor of Go Windy City Baseball and a Twitter connection of mine, was kind enough to give his thoughts on Knizner’s change. He mentioned that Knizner was attempting to stay back with greater ease, producing better contact - common reasoning for an adjustment like this.
Steadiness through the minor leagues often comes with the assumption that things have been the same for a hitter mechanically, but often adjustment like this are necessary simply to maintain consistent levels of production. The talent differential between Johnson City and Springfield is stark and Knizner has dealt with it extremely well.
On top of the tweak to his hand placement, a slight adjustment in the size of Knizer’s leg kick is also noticeable compared to his time with NC State. The timetable on this is harder to parse out, but the effect remains in-line with Knizner adjusting to maintain his stellar production through the minor leagues.
Usually a tightening a leg kick is for practical reasons: to remove unnecessary movement; to shorten a swing; to balance weight better in the box. But the issue is the inverse - adding a leg kick - often has positive reasoning as well: to stay back better; to generate more momentum towards the ball; to engage your lower half. This reiterates the importance of taking things on a case-by-case basis; understanding the motives behind an individual adjustment instead of applying a blanket statement to any given player who shortens or lengthens a leg kick.
Knizner’s front-leg adjustment may have emerged with the development of his hands, seeking a shortened stride to the ball as he moved the power generating features of his swing from the hanging and “stalling” of his front leg with NC State, to the lowering of his hands and reduction in height of his leg kick.
Knizner’s lower half remains the main differences between the catcher and a former Cardinal I’ve seen associated with our topic of interest, postseason hero David Freese.
Knizner uses a fluid, rocking energy build to transfer energy out of his lower half, something Freese simplifies down to a simple, explosive stride with an upright stance.
The similarity comes in where each hitter loads his hands. Freese’s hands start substantially higher than Knizner’s, which takes Freese down into the peak of his load. Knizner pulls his hands back and up into a very similar spot, but from a different starting point. While many hitters with vastly different set-ups look similar before their momentum proceeds towards the ball, this duo is similar in the length of their swings and the distance their bat heads travel to enter the zone. While your standard “broadcast” angle might provide a different aesthetic than the open-face gif above, I think the Knizer-Freese comp is one to ponder, even if it’s not perfectly accurate. (Then again, what comp really is?)
If the Cardinals want to give Kelly consistent reps behind the plate when Molina comes back, Triple-A will be the appropriate spot to do so. This leaves a clear path back to Springfield for Knizner if consistent playing time is also a desire of GM Mike Girsch. Many have pondered whether a change of organization is the best way for Knizner to realize his potential, as his defensive ability behind the plate may not ever reach or surpass Kelly. While he would be a nice piece for another backstop-depleted system, St. Louis might want to retain a player like Knizner and his ability to adjust.
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