Corey Knebel is the latest in the long line of University of Texas relievers who have made it to the professional level. The right-hander already possesses a level of experience and repertoire that could get him through the minor leagues rather quickly. He stands at 6'4'' 210 lbs
Knebel went undrafted out of Georgetown (TX) high school, but quickly made a name for himself in 2011, his freshman year. In 55 innings he had a 1.13 ERA, while striking out 61 and limiting hitters to a .151 batting average. Knebel was named to the Baseball America All-Freshman team, All-Big 12 first team, and was the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Pitcher of the Year.
2012 was an equally productive year for Knebel, who took a higher workload (73 innings) and turned in similar numbers. He posted a 2.08 ERA with 68 strikeouts and posted another sub-Mendoza batting average against of .189. He's followed that up with yet another solid 2013 where he's posted a 2.68 ERA in 37 innings with 46 strikeouts, good for second on the team and 14 walks. He's saved 8 games, and is only 5 behind Huston Street for the UT record.
Knebel certainly has shown results as a closer in a competitive conference, but it's more important that he has the stuff to make those eye-popping numbers happen. Unlike Street, who didn't have blow-away stuff usually seen in a closer, Knebel can cause a lot of swing and misses from hitters. He features a mid 90s fastball, where he tops out around 96 or 97. It's probably considered a plus pitch at this point, and he possesses a slider that sits low 80s that could also be considered as plus. A tweet from Perfect Game's Kendall Rogers:
Rogers' tweet sums up Knebel's upside nicely. He possesses two plus pitches, and though he's been a little inconsistent at times this year, he's also shown why he's regarded as one of the top closers in the nation. After doing some research, Knebel apparently scrapped his slider during his freshman season and turned to a big curve for his main secondary pitch. However, Rogers' tweet says slider, so he must've brought it back.
Knebel doesn't have a ton of glaring weaknesses. His walk rates are reasonable, and he has great stuff. His inconsistency to simply make good pitches has come up some, but all pitchers go through that. His floor is probably a journeyman minor league reliever who doesn't make it past AA or AAA, due to ineffectiveness or some unforeseen injuries.
One red flag: Knebel was suspended from the Texas team during their road series in Kansas and sent home a few weeks ago. Texas sports in general are pretty tight-lipped about specifics on player incidents, so there's no indication as to what he did. He has been reinstated since then.
Lights-out closer. See what I did there? I see a lot of Brad Lidge in Knebel's upside. A great fastball along with a killer slider was the M.O. of one of the nastiest Astros relievers of all-time. Knebel has the stuff to get to that level, and he could reach it rather quickly due to his experience against advanced hitters.
Will The Astros Draft Him?
Here's where it gets tricky. Knebel's role is pretty much defined right now-he'll likely start as a middle relief pitcher and could get the chance to close. A team like the Astros probably is not focused on drafting a reliever in the first handful of rounds, which is where Knebel will most likely be taken. I would rather see Houston going with high upside arms who can start early, and focus on relievers later on. If Knebel makes it past, say, round eight, he could make some sense as a guy to take a chance on, especially considering the Astros' short term bullpen woes. But I don't see that happening, and instead a contending team with a lot of depth can take him between rounds 3-6 and hope he reaches the majors quickly and can contribute, a la Addison Reed and the White Sox.
RHP Corey Knebel (via Donald Boyles)
Note: Does his delivery remind you of anyone? Knebel's UT profile says his favorite player growing up was Roy Oswalt. Doesn't look like a coincidence that his delivery is similar.
Corey Knebel (Texas) (via CollegeBaseballBlog)
Note: I had some trouble finding recent scouting reports on Knebel, so these first two are from his freshman year.
From Baseball America's Aaron Fitt (3/7/2011):
"Freshman righthander Corey Knebel has demonstrated similar poise in tight spots, making him an out-of-nowhere force in late-game situations...Knebel has a big arm—Garrido said he touched 96 mph in Hawaii, and he was 90-93 Sunday. But in the ninth he struck out the top two hitters in Stanford's lineup by getting each to chase a curveball in the dirt. That's particularly noteworthy since Knebel just learned the curveball on Thursday, and threw it once on Friday. He said he'll scrap his slider and stick with the curve going forward."
.From Baseball America's Aaron Fitt (4/18/2011):
"He's got a live arm — I saw him up to 93 out in Austin earlier this season, and I've heard he's been higher — and he pounds the zone with his fastball. His secondary stuff is a work in progress, but he's one of those guys who can dominate with the fastball, and he's fearless — like Huston Street was. It's hard to compare any pitcher to Street, the best college closer of the last decade, but Texas does seem to have a good one on its hands."
"The tall right-hander gets it done with a good two-pitch power combination, a fastball that hits the mid-90s and a downer curve with bite that's a true out pitch." -Jonathan Mayo