It may have been a while, but if I was to say the name Jason Knapp, something in the Phillies portion of your brain (located near the addiction center) might tingle. Knapp, a Phillies 2nd round selection in the 2008 draft, played minor league baseball with the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, before the Phillies traded him, amongst others, to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Cliff Lee. Knapp has the prototypical physical profile of an MLB pitcher. He's six feet five inches tall, and his last recorded weight was 235 pounds. He's got the body type to provide serious power on his pitches, a talent he displayed often with a blazing mid to upper 90's fastball.
When the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee the first time around, the package looked like this:
Phillies: LHP Cliff Lee
Indians: RHP Carlos Carrasco + RHP Jason Knapp + INF Jason Donald + C Lou Marson
The Phillies made out like bandits in this trade. Lee helped the Phillies to the team's second consecutive NL Pennant, while none of the four prospects traded to Cleveland have lived up to their ceilings. Carrasco is the only one of the bunch who remains relevant as he continues to compete for a back-of-the-rotation spot with the Indians. Marson, a backup catcher for a number of seasons in Cleveland suffered from injuries in 2013. He comes in second to Carrasco in relevance given that he has the skills to play as a backup catcher in the majors, and that he made $1 million in 2013. Between 2010 and 2012 Donald appeared in 170 games for the Indians and even batted .318 in 39 games with the Tribe back in 2011, but joined the Reds in 2013 before being designated for assignment by Cincinnati and sent outright to the Reds' triple-A squad. When the deal went down, the package deal was reported to have been centered around the pitchers in the deal with Marson and Donald predicted to be in backup or utility roles. Carrasco was seen as the more polished, close to MLB-ready pitcher who might remain in the rotation for years, but never as a #1 or #2 starter.
Knapp, the youngest of the bunch was seen as the star of the deal, the player with the highest ceiling. Most reports had him pegged as a top of the rotation starter if everything worked out, and at the very least a flame-throwing closer. When Knapp moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland he had already been experiencing some arm troubles including bicep inflammation and some loose bodies, but his easy 99 mph fastball and already developing breaking stuff proved too enticing for the Indians not to pounce upon. Unfortunately, due to his all-wrong mechanics and bad luck, Knapp has had shoulder issues leading to multiple surgeries, and a grand total of 156 innings pitched in his entire minor league career. He hasn't pitched professionally since 2010, but fortunately for the righty, he's still young enough to make a legitimate attempt at a comeback.
So, what about Knapp's mechanics made him such an injury risk? Check out this video clip of the big righty from 2009 when he pitched for the Lakewood Blueclaws:
Specifically look at Knapp's throwing arm. After splitting his hands, his arm comes almost behind his back in a sling shot motion before driving towards the plate. Many reports on Knapp mentioned that he constituted more as a "thrower" and not a "pitcher". Essentially, he hurls the ball with reckless abandon, which we can observe in his follow through which barely exists. He doesn't pull down and in on his glove arm enough, and he finishes his motion in poor form. Knapp showed a natural drive to the plate, used his big frame well, and even created some torque with his body. Basically, he's all about power, something that many pitchers never pick up on, but also a raw tool, one that needs refinement.
Next, take a look at this clip from his time in Cleveland's minor league system:
From this more extended clip, we see Knapp from a better angle. Immediately, his motion reminds me of Justin Masterson's approach, but without Masterson's repeatable nature and tighter mechanics. Knapp tends to let his glove side fly open, but when he doesn't, he unsurprisingly locates better. This view gives us a better look at how his throwing arm comes behind his body, putting immense strain on his shoulder. Moreover, while Knapp doesn't show a lot of spine tilt, he shows little consistency in his mechanics. Even his arm angle changes, most likely not on purpose given his youth. Lastly, from the side angle views, you can notice an inverted "W" that can also lead to arm troubles, something, for example, noted about Adam Wainwright that most likely led to his elbow problems.
Overall, this was a kid with a lot of potential, but also one in need of some serious coaching, tweaking, and experience. At a young age, Knapp showed a lot of good signs mixed with some harbingers of disaster, and Cleveland lost this hand of prospect trades when Knapp's injury issues snowballed.
Now, at 23 years old, Knapp is making a comeback. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN first reported it on Twitter, and since this isn't major news outside of Cleveland and Philadelphia, few other outlets have picked it up. Immediately upon hearing the news though I thought that Knapp would make a perfect signing for the Phillies. He's still young enough to come back, comes with almost no financial risk, and he's familiar with the Phillies system. In addition, the Phillies minor league system doesn't have a lot of live arms, especially ones that can pump in fastballs in the mid to upper 90's. In a discussion about this topic with Matt Winkleman of Phuture Phillies, Winkleman mentioned what a contract with Knapp would look like:
@joecatz @Summerpastime Doesn't have mlb time and it would be a 1 year Milb FA deal— Matt Winkelman (@Matt_Winkelman) December 17, 2013
The Phillies could sign Knapp, see just how healthy he is, and then ease him into some mechanical changes to hopefully get him on the mound in some MiLB games as soon as June. There's no downside to this for the Phillies, and it might be Knapp's best chance at MLB redemption. Oftentimes for organizations, it's taking flyers on players like Jason Knapp that turn out to be some of the shrewdest and most productive decisions. Maybe Knapp won't become anything, he'll re-injure his shoulder, and we'll never hear of him again, but he could also turn into something valuable, so we might as well see what he can do.