It's good to be back! After a hiatus from the column, Behind the Backstop is here to provide you with useful information in your player evaluations/procurement.
As part of the column, I would like to feature the following each week.
- Recent Callups
- Players making their big league debuts
- Hot Prospects down on the farm to keep an eye on
- A buy or sell featured player each week from the major leagues
- Potential closers to keep an eye on who could emerge in the ninth inning soon
This Week's Featured Callup
Corey Knebel is a 22-year-old right-handed pitcher with the Tigers who had a dubious debut on May 24. Knebel, a supplemental round draft pick from the 2013 First Year Player Draft, is the second player from last year's Draft to make his MLB debut. Cleveland left hander Kyle Crockett was the first. After a shaky debut, Knebel threw two scoreless innings in his next outing.
Knebel cruised through the minor leagues, getting as high as Triple-A and only allowing five earned runs in 50 innings pitched for a 0.90 ERA. After a dominant professional debut in 2013 in Low-A, where Knebel accumulated 41 strikeouts in 31 innings for a 0.87 ERA, Knebel forced his way onto the big league scene with an encore performance early this year in the minor ranks.
Knebel was drafted as a relief pitcher, and it's expected that he will remain in that role long term with the Tigers. He has the stuff to potentially be a starter, but he would need a lot more minor league exposure and he would have to tame down his high effort delivery.
The Detroit righty works up to 98 mph with his four-seam fastball, and has been consistently around 96 in his short time in the major leagues. Knebel gets tied up in his mechanics and doesn't always stay consistent. He tends to lose velo on occasion, and we've seen dramatic ranges as low as 91 and as high as 98. When he's on line though, he's a consistent 96-98 worker. Not only does he have premium velocity, but he also features plus, late life on his fastball with good angle. His max effort delivery actually offers some deception, and his fastball can be a nasty pitch.
His fastball is a true plus pitch, but his curveball is also an above average offering. Knebel's biggest nemesis is his command. He gets such tremendous movement, that he tends to miss in and out of the zone. If he is able to get ahead in the count, his curveball is a true out pitch, however. We've seen Knebel throw a changeup, but unless he is tried out as a starter, it will probably become a pitch he will eventually ditch until later in his career.
Knebel has closer upside, and while it's not expected to happen this year, he could be an option should something happen to Joe Nathan.
Featured Minor League Prospect
Ramon Flores, NYY LF
Flores can really hit, but he doesn't quite have the power to be a full-time player at the MLB level. He is a smart hitter, and puts together great at-bats. He's hitting .267/.356/.461 with five homers and three stolen bases in 180 at-bats this year at Triple-A Scranton. He could get a callup this summer, but it's not expected that he will be a long-term starting option in New York. He could provide a nice spark though for anyone looking for corner outfield depth. Flores doesn't have the acumen to play CF, and if he did, we would be talking about a legit major league prospect.
Don't get too excited about this one, but keep your eye on him for depth purposes.
Beckett shocked the industry when he threw a no-hitter on Sunday. Does this mean that the former ace has returned to his once dominant status?
After watching his game, there were a lot of signs that pointed to a return to form. His curveball was an out pitch, set up with promising command of his fastball. I still worry about his ability to throw strikes, but I haven't seen that kind of command from him in a long time. His curveball, once one of the best in the game, resembled a true punchout pitch for the first time in years.
In looking at the analytics, luck has been on his side this year. Beckett carries a 2.43 ERA this year, and I would suspect that to creep up to the mid 3.00's. This is the best he's thrown since 2011 though, and if he can stay healthy, you're looking at a really solid number three starter. That's the biggest question though. Can Beckett stay healthy for another 20+ starts this year?
I would hang onto Beckett and expect number three starter production, but he's not ace material anymore, despite the no-no.
To Close or not to Close?
Following the release of Jose Valverde in Queens, the Mets brought up Vic Black. Jenrry Mejia is still the guy in the pen to own in New York, but Black would be the next guy in line. He's a good bet to get an opportunity at some point.