Being one step away from the big leagues is a scenario that applies to many prospects. For Lehigh Valley reliever Tyler Knigge, what’s ahead isn’t as important as where he is right now.
A solid outlook and firm understanding of the business have helped Knigge (pronounced kuh-NIG-ee) patiently develop his abilities in the minors. With a bit more time, he’ll be able to reach the top level of the sport he has played for as long as he can recall.
Since his promotion to the Triple-A level last month, the 25-year-old righty hurler has been one of the IronPigs’ most reliable contributors, sporting a 1-1 record with a 3.66 ERA while striking out 17 and walking only one in 19 2/3 innings.
As the set up man with Double-A Reading earlier this season, Knigge notched a 3-0 record with three saves and a 2.12 ERA in 17 contests, to earn a promotion.
A deeper trust in his offerings has been the difference this season for the six-foot-four 215-pounder. Knigge, who was a 12th round draft choice of the Phillies in 2010 out of Lewis & Clark State College, throws a fastball that most often clocks in the mid-90’s and mixes in his slider as well as a change up to keep the opposition guessing.
Knigge was a Florida State League All-Star in 2012, when he dominated, holding opponents to a .168 batting average while tallying a 0.60 ERA as well as a 9.07 K/9 mark in 34 appearance. When he moved up to the Double-A Eastern League, things didn’t come as easily.
“When I was in Clearwater, you know, I’ve always had a pretty good fastball and in Clearwater, they had a hard time handling it,” Knigge stated. “Then, every level you move up they’ll start turning on 95-96. I think last year the balancing factor was that I have to learn to pitch instead of just throw. I learned that the hard way in 2013, giving up a few bombs here and there.”
The focused Knigge credits his father Kent, a former college pitcher and current youth baseball coach, with setting him on the right path and providing guidance even from afar.
“He’s always there waiting for my phone call after every outing,” Knigge explained. “He’s been my base, my building block since I was just a little tiny kid. But, my dad has always been there to give me that final push. It doesn’t matter if it’s Triple-A or tee ball, he’s always been there for me.”
His proximity to the majors is acknowledged by Knigge’s pitching coach Ray Burris, who preaches a “develop first to win later” mentality.
“Knigge, he’s coming fast and he’s putting himself on the radar,” Burris said.
“TK has a lot of ability,” Burris added. “The thing he’s learning is where his strengths are and where his weaknesses are and how he approaches that day in and day out. The thing that he’s done well since he’s been here is attack the strike zone.
The Idaho native was on the radar a couple years back as well, when he appeared in multiple games for the Phillies in spring training. This year, there were no opportunities to impress the higher ups on the preseason stage. That apparent dip in status didn’t impact Knigge’s focus in a negative manner, however. He spun it in a positive way.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is that they have a plan. Whether that matches up with what my plan is, I mean, it’s not up to me. It’s up to them and it’s my job to sway them in the direction that I want to go. I wasn’t discouraged or anything like that. It was more motivation. I need to work harder, I need to improve. I need to show them that I belong and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far, but I’ve got to keep it up,” Knigge said.
As sensible as Knigge’s outlook is, he’s still got big goals. He’s just taking his career one step at a time, proving himself at each level along the way.
“Obviously, my ultimate dream is to pitch in the big leagues. But, when it comes to that, you can’t get too far ahead of yourself. Being too far ahead of yourself can be detrimental and I think, in my head, I’m focused on the here and the now.”