With the rapid graduation of Carlos Rodon and Trea Turner to MLB after they were both first round picks in 2014, the minor league ranks have held few former Wolfpack players of late with much of a shot at making The Show. By virtue of his power potential and lofty draft position in this year’s draft, Joe Dunand has to rank as State’s top prospect alum, but it’s Andrew Knizner who is closest to the majors after a surprisingly fast and successful rise through the Cardinals system since being drafted a year ago.
Knizner began his career in Johnson City of the Appalachian League, rookie ball that is baseball’s lowest professional level. He dominated to the tune of a .915 OPS and posted a team-high six home runs. He threw out over 40% of would-be base thieves, an excellent rate, but struggled with his receiving, allowing nine passed balls in 21 games behind the dish (he also played first base and DH’d).
State College (short season A-ball) is the next rung on the Cards’ affiliate ladder, but Knizner skipped that level altogether and started the season at Peoria (low-A), where he triple slashed a solid .279/.325/.480 in 191 plate appearances. His eight home runs rank fourth on the club, and that’s particularly impressive considering he hasn’t played for Peoria in weeks.
Knizner skipped yet another level, this time midseason, making the jump to AA without any experience at advanced A. After struggling at the dish initially, Knizner has been on fire, hitting in 11 straight games after going 1-for-3 with a walk in last night’s 7-0 win over Arkansas. In his 21 games for Springfield, Knizner is slashing .316/.372/.468. He’s continued to throw runners out at a better than 40% clip, and he’s cut down on the passed balls with just three all season.
Though he hasn’t played third base professionally, he does have the ability to play both corner infield spots, and that added versatility makes him all the more likely to carve out a role in the majors, especially for a national league club. Knizner may need that versatility since he’s doubly blocked at the major league level by veteran Yadier Molina, who is signed through 2020 if his body will allow him to play that long, and Carson Kelly, a top 100 prospect who the Cards just promoted to serve as Molina’s understudy.
Still, one could make the argument that Knizner is already third on the entire organizational depth chart behind the plate, and that’s pretty remarkable considering he was playing in the Appalachian League a year ago.
As for Dunand, he’s yet to make his professional debut due to injury, but we’ll take a look at him and the rest of State’s recent draftees as the minor league season unfolds.