FGCU: Knapp’s attention to detail derails the competition
From the May 22 edition of the Charlotte Sun.
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FORT MYERS — Working all the angles, civil engineers have a keen eye for even the slightest details in what they design. Every square inch is accounted for and has its own purpose, playing a small but efficient part in the greater body of work.
That’s the approach Ricky Knapp takes to the mound and has excelled in doing for Florida Gulf Coast University’s baseball team.
The civil engineering student has become the staff’s ace not in overpowering opponents — he doesn’t have velocity on his pitches to do so — but in paying attention to subtleties such as how hitters grip the bat and forcing them to make their own mistakes.
“I’m a contact guy, I’m not going to try and throw it by guys,” Knapp said. “That’s how I was taught to think of the game … I’m trying to go out there and throw nine innings every time I pitch, and I can’t do that going full-bore.”
Knapp’s fastball usually works around the mid-to-high 80s and can touch up to around 90 mph, but he has a changeup and slider that work well off it while also working in a curveball.
And while the numbers on the radar gun may not be outstanding, the rest of the stat sheet is, which is why he’s taking the mound today for FGCU in its opening game of the Atlantic Sun tournament against Kennesaw State in DeLand. The right-hander will not only be attempting to give the Eagles an NCAA tournament birth, but also himself a final opportunity to impress major league scouts.
Knapp is 9-2 this season in 13 starts and has a 2.02 ERA over 93 2/3 innings. His 70 strikeouts lead the team but with 15 walks this season, Eagles coach Dave Tollett said Knapp’s approach when he takes the mound is second to none of the players he’s coached in his 11 years at the helm.
“He’s probably the best that’s ever pitched here on the mental side of it,” said Tollett, who coached Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. “He’s constantly knowing what he wants to do with the baseball, knows his limits. He said today, ‘If I get to the ninth, I’m not going to try and blow by them, I’m going to pitch smarter,’ and that’s Ricky.”
Considering what resources Knapp had available to him, it’s no reason he became such a dominant pitcher.
An alumnus of Port Charlotte High School, Knapp is the son of former Detroit Tigers pitching coach Rick Knapp, who is currently the Los Angeles Dodgers assistant minor league pitching coordinator.
The Tigers selected the younger Knapp in the 44th round of the 2010 amateur draft but he decided to enroll at FGCU for two main reasons: the proximity to home and the tutelage of Tollett and assistant coach Forrest Martin.
But the sort of success that Knapp garnered with the Pirates, including an all-state selection, didn’t immediately follow him to Fort Myers.
He tied for the team lead in wins and was named to the A-Sun all-freshman team but had a 5.06 ERA. Thanks to a trip to the Northwoods League that summer, Knapp returned to the Eagles better than ever, thanks to mental development.
“I wasn’t really throwing enough strikes and was getting hit when I was,” Knapp said. “They say the game speeds up at all levels but you don’t really realize it until you actually play in a game. You work through it and learn how to have success, learn to say ‘I don’t have my stuff today, so I have to command better.’ It was just learning to make adjustments from pitch to pitch instead of batter to batter.”
Knapp also learned how to trust in his stuff, knowing the process would ultimately prevail. That meant trying to convert as many outs as quickly as possible with a goal of keeping each batter to three or fewer pitches.
“I don’t even want to get to a 2-1 (count),” Knapp said. “I want to put him away 1-1, 0-1, 1-0. I want to keep the pitch count low. If he gets to 1-2, I might then try to put him away because that’s a force-action count, and then there’s a couple different things I can do.”
Now in the middle of a successful junior campaign, Knapp acknowledged that the number of times he puts on an Eagles uniform are just a handful; today could potentially be his last start. Knapp is draft eligible again this June and his stock probably wouldn’t get much higher in another year because even if he did have better numbers, he would be a year older.
Knapp said he gets excited at the thought of being selected and continuing to pursue his dream of making it to the major leagues.
“I wasn’t considered a prospect out of high school, so it’s pretty cool, and seeing that for our team is just awesome,” Knapp said. “Obviously our basketball team had all the hype with the Sweet 16, but we have something pretty special with the baseball team with a lot of guys that can keep playing professionally.”
Tollett even seemed resigned to the fact that he won’t have the luxury of calling Knapp, who he thinks can go anywhere between Rounds 3-10, much longer but is thrilled he’s had the opportunity to have the right-hander on the Eagles.
“Ricky has been fantastic for three years, and we’re going to miss him,” Tollett said. “He’s going to be drafted pretty decently … It only takes one team to like him like we did.”
Just how the blueprint read.