LOS ANGELES — Back in the before times, the MLB Draft was much longer than five rounds. There were 40 rounds, spread over three days, and in 2019 Landon Knack watched the whole thing.
The East Tennessee State junior was coming off a season that earned him a mention on the Collegiate Pitcher of the Year watch list. He had a 2.60 ERA with 94 strikeouts and 16 walks in 97 innings as a junior, after excelling as both a pitcher and first baseman for two years at Walters State Community College in Tennessee.
“He’s a former position player who started pitching, and is naturally gifted at throwing strikes,” Dodgers VP of amateur scouting Billy Gasparino said Thursday. “We kind of identified it last year.”
But as the rounds went by, Knack watched his phone. After the three days were up, his name was never called.
“It was a huge motivator for me afterwards, a little wake-up call that I was good but not good enough yet,” Knack said Friday. “It changed everything I did. I was looking to get better, using that anger as extra motivation.”
Knack hit the weight room as soon as last season ended, and it helped him turn his fastball from the low 90s to what Baseball America described as “97-98 mph at his best and is 92-95 deep into his outings.”
“He went from a 90-mph guy to a 95-mph guy. Everything up-ticked,” Gasparino said. “You match that with the natural strength and ability, and he had a great year.”
The results were evident right away for Knack, who struck out 51 batters and walked only one in his four starts, posting a 1.08 ERA. His last start was March 7 against Wagner, when he pitched six scoreless innings and struck out 16.
“The other part of the velocity was me using that motivation of not getting drafted last year, kind of getting pissed off and just trying to throw as hard as I could. I didn’t necessarily do any weighted ball stuff or anything like that,” Knack said. “I realized last year that 90-92 wasn’t going to get it done. If I wanted to get to where I want to get, I needed to have a little bit of an uptick.”
#ETSUTough | @LKnackers pic.twitter.com/sF4SLzTkB0— ETSU Baseball (@ETSU_Baseball) June 12, 2020
Having a senior season limited to only four starts is rough, especially after the start to the year Knack had, and trying to get noticed by major league teams. Within a few weeks after the end of the season he was able to get workout equipment from a friend, and as the season was getting shut down he secured a pitching mound for his back yard in Tennessee, to keep throwing regularly.
Knack utilized a facility in Nashville through his advisor, The Bledsoe Agency, to view video of himself pitching, and was able to upload Rapsodo information into the MLB portal for teams to view.
On the radar
Marty Lamb is the Dodgers area scout who covers, among other states, Tennessee and Kentucky, as part of his duties. He was the scout who saw Bobby Miller at Louisville, giving Lamb two drafts in the last six years in which he was the area scout for the Dodgers’ first two draft picks (also in 2015 with Walker Buehler and Kyle Funkhouser, who did not sign).
“He was actually the very first scout I sat down with, last fall,” Knack said. “We kept a dialogue there, and talked especially after the season shut down. I knew they were interested, but I didn’t realize just how interested.”
Lamb told Gasparino in the fall to watch Knack for an increase in velocity and stuff. The latter included a refined slider.
“Last year I kind of had more of a slurve. That and my curveball, there was a difference, but they kind of went together a little bit,” Knack said. “So I had a big slider and I didn’t need a big slider. I already had a big curveball, so we worked all year on trying to tighten up the slider, and I think that really helped improve the stuff.”
Because the college baseball season ended amid the coronavirus pandemic, the fifth-year senior Knack has the option of returning to college. But given how high he was drafted, it sure seems like he’ll turn pro instead.
Knack’s advisor called him late Wednesday night, telling him that the Dodgers would probably take him with one of their first two picks on Thursday (60th, 66th). They drafted him in the second round, 60th overall.
“I actually knew about midnight the night before I was going to go to them. What you saw on the video was more pure excitement. I was so excited for it to finally happen.”
The recommended slot value for the 60th overall pick is $1,157,400. Given that Knack’s draft prospect rankings were all in similar range, between 106th and 112th overall, it’s reasonable to assume he might sign a below-slot deal, especially if a certain bonus amount was agreed to before the pick was made.
Knack says there’s no deal in place just yet.
“We still have a couple things to finish up before signing things,” he said. “We’re still working on that.”