FGCU ace Knapp eager to meet Mets

From the June 8, 2013 edition of the Charlotte Sun

Ricky Knapp, in Arizona to visit his dad, Rick, spent most of the Friday huddled around the computer.

Name after name — 235 in all — were recited as players selected in the MLB first-year player draft.

Finally in the eighth round, it was his turn, the last of three Florida Gulf Coast University players drafted on the day.

“The Mets select Knapp, Ricky, right-handed pitcher and the son of former Detroit Tigers pitching coach and current Dodgers minor league pitching coordinator,” the omniscient voice said.

At that moment, Ricky Knapp became a member of the New York Mets.

“You’re not really sure of when you’re gonna get picked or if you’re gonna get picked,” Knapp said. “It’s special up until your name is called.”

Knapp said he first got a call during the sixth round from the Mets, who wanted to know Knapp’s signing price. When New York called again, the Mets hinted they would take Knapp in the ninth round before Knapp said he was also hearing interest from the Houston Astros.

At that point, the Mets said they would take Knapp in the eighth, but he didn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.

“Hopefully they’re not just lobbying,” Knapp joked, describing the moment. “And when the pick came, there was no other feeling like it.”

Knapp then took another step back, reflected on his past for a moment, and continued.

“I’ve put in so much hard work the last seven years, since my freshman year of high school to realize this part,” he said. “But you hear so many kids saying this is it — where it ends — but it’s not. This moment is great, but tomorrow it’s like I’m back in being in high school again, and hopefully my career hasn’t even begun yet.”

Knapp said he’ll report to the Mets’ extended spring training facility in Port St. Lucie before being assigned to one of the organization’s minor league affiliates.

Previously a 44th pick by the Tigers in 2010 out of Port Charlotte High School, Knapp knew the process would test his patience, but it paid off in the end.

The ace of the Florida Gulf Coast University pitching staff, Knapp capped off his third year with a 9-3 record and 2.10 ERA for the Eagles. He struck out 74 over 102 2/3 innings while walking only 15.

The selection fell in line with projections. Despite the rapidity of picks as well as teams still adjusting to new draft rules, Knapp figured to be in the mix from the third to the 10th rounda, but more likely around the seventh or eighth.

For the pro game, Knapp projects as a starter, using a fastball that only works around 90 mph. Knapp works in three other pitches — slider, change-up and curve ball — relying on contact to get batters out.

An American League area scout, speaking on the condition of anonymity as not to reveal his team’s strategy, praised Knapp despite his low velocity.

“He’s one of the best overall pitchers I’ve scout the last five years,” the scout said. “He doesn’t throw harder than guys I’ve scouted, but he throws a ton of strikes with four pitches, and he can flat out pitch.”

Knapp followed a pair of Eagles teammates on the second day of the draft. Pitcher Harrison Cooney went in the sixth round to the Los Angeles Angels while utility man Brandon Bednar went in the seventh to the San Francisco Giants.

They will be trying to follow in the footsteps of Chris Sale, the White Sox ace who was selected in the 2010 draft. While Sale’s unique velocity and left-handedness made his stock soar, Knapp had to rely on a grittier approach.

“Those guys are everywhere, but he finds a way to separate himself just being a normal guy,” the scout said of Knapp.

Because of his father’s connections to pro baseball, Knapp’s youth was far from “normal.” As a 5-year-old, learning the game from the elder Knapp served as a way to connect with him. It was also through his dad that Knapp learned how to be a better pitcher — to mix speeds and pitches — instead of throwing the ball as hard as he could.

“To share this with him, I wouldn’t want to have it any other way,” Knapp said. “He got me started in baseball and instilled that love in me. The fact we can share the moment of being drafted is just an awesome feeling.”

And while he’s loved what his dad has been able to do for him, Knapp said it was also special to go to an organization where he can make a name for himself.

“It’ll be a good way for me to branch out on my own in baseball,” Knapp said. “I’m my own player, I got drafted on my own accord, and that’s what I worked for.”

In the short term though, Knapp has far simpler ambitions. Still jet-lagged from his flight out west, the 21-year-old said he would probably celebrate by going out for a drink with his dad and getting a juicy steak.

“I would say I’m buying, but I don’t have any money yet,” Knapp said. “But I might when we get home, give my dad a little present for all the years he helped me.”

Email: gzeck@sun-herald.com

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