Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp launched a solo home run to help the International League All-Stars down the Pacific Coast League team in the Triple-A All-Star Game by a score of 4-2 on Wednesday in Charlotte.
In 69 games with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs this season, the switch-hitting 24-year-old sports a .264 average with seven homers and 32 RBI.
Recently, I spoke to Knapp about his All-Star nod, learning from veterans, his own progress, the Lehigh Valley staff and plenty more. Read ahead for that full interview.
-With the All-Star honor coming your way, what were your feelings on that? Do you feel a level of accomplishment?
Yeah, it’s awesome. It’s great to get any acknowledgement. A lot of hard work went in. I really hammered the defensive stuff this year and I’ve kind of been battling through the offense, you know? Not getting too down on myself early in the year and being able to put together some good at bats. So, it’s a real honor.
-In the past, maybe the thing people might critique about you was your defense. Is that what you’re still focusing heavily on?
I feel like I’m always trying to get better. We’ve been trying to make it muscle memory, where you don’t have to worry about it, and you can go worry about the game plan stuff. Calling the game and the defensive alignment and all that. So, it’s getting to the point where it’s starting to be fun and I’m not worrying about it as much, so then I can just focus on the pitcher and getting them in the zone. You know, the receiving and the blocking has been there and the throwing has felt really good. My arm has felt really good, so it’s kind of just becoming second nature.
-You spent time with the big league team in spring training. I’ve always heard from other players that Carlos Ruiz is a huge influence and can help younger guys a lot. Do you feel that’s accurate that Chooch can be a great source to learn from?
Yeah, definitely. I talked to Chooch quite a bit in spring, just tried to pick his brain as much as I could. He just has so much experience and knowledge that just talking to him, you gain a lot of stuff that you don’t even know about yet. Whether it’s on the field or just off the field, scouting report type stuff. You know, looking at what pitchers want to do and stuff like that. That was awesome to get to go to spring (training) and pick his brain.
-How much does Ruiz stand out over other players in the mentor sense?
I think, you know, there aren’t many veterans around, so I don’t have that much experience being around a lot of big league guys. But when I am around Chooch, he just takes you in like you’ve been there the whole time and he doesn’t “big league” you in any way. He just wants to go out and help and show you what he’s learned and share that knowledge. So, it’s been awesome to have him around.
-I’m almost surprised the opportunity hasn’t come up this year, because it always seems like catchers can get beat up and miss some time, but if the need at the big league level for another catcher comes, would you be ready to take on that level?
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s kind of what this year has been about, is just being ready for that call when it happens. I’m trying not to think about it too much. I’d rather spend my time working about being ready for when it does happen rather than worrying about if it’s gonna happen or not. So, that’s kind of what I’ve been focusing on this year is just putting my head down, putting in the work and being ready for when the call happens.
-What feedback have you gotten from the coaching staff this year? Is it anything different than previous years?
I mean, not much. It’s all good stuff. I think when John Mizerock was here, we worked a lot defensively on and off the field. We worked a lot in the video room watching film and going over scouting reports and that stuff. It’s kind of been nice to have control over this pitching staff and having those guys throw to me.
-When you watch film is it footage of you, or the battery mate, or the opposition…?
It’ll be me behind the plate, it’ll be me hitting, a lot of time it’s watching the opposing pitcher and then kind of going back and looking at the game. Looking at how the game went the night before and seeing what we could do differently.
–Jake Thompson has had a lot of success lately. From your side, what has been the key for him to improve since early in the season?
I don’t think Jake was pleased with his first month here, but he’s been lights-out since. What’s he done different is he’s commanded the strike zone much better. He’s filling it up, he’s been throwing all four pitches for strikes instead of feeding the fastball in there and then the off-speed wasn’t there. I know he’s still battling with the slider. I don’t think it’s up to Jake’s standards, but it’s getting there, so you know that’s awesome for him. He’s been battling through the whole time. He never put his head down or anything, so it’s encouraging.
-There are several guys with big league experience that have played on the IronPigs this year. Is there anyone from that group has been able to help you grow and learn?
We’ve had a lot of guys, especially bullpen guys, that have a lot of big league time. (Edward) Mujica has got close to nine years, I think. So, having a guy like that around, you can kind of look at them and see how they handle situations has been nice. I think when J.P. (Arencibia) was here, it was nice to have him. He was explaining a lot of stuff to me that I haven’t even– I haven’t experienced that stuff, so it was good having him here. But, I think this clubhouse is really gelling. We all get along. It’s pretty easy to come to the park and play, so it’s been a positive for sure.
-Is there anyone on the roster here that has one of those standout, knock out pitches that leaves a heavy impression?
(Edubray) Ramos was lights out. His fastball-slider combination is why he’s in the big leagues. I was surprised he lasted this long. I mean everyone in the bullpen has got their own individual stuff. I like catching Mujica because you know what you’re going to get every time, but I mean Luis Garcia has got a power arm. His slider is pretty wipe-out.
-You mentioned Ramos there. Is he one of the best stories to come out of the organization this year, with his rapid progress from the low levels of the minors up to the majors in about a two year window?
It’s pretty incredible. He just goes out and pitches the same every time. He just attacks hitters. He throws his slider and fastball in the zone and when you throw 95-plus, it’s pretty wipe-out, so I’m pretty happy for him. I would be surprised if he ever pitches in the minors again, based on the success he’s had.
-When do you feel like your estimated time of arrival to the majors could be? When could you join Edubray?
I’m hoping this year. It’s not up to me, but I’m kind of– I want to force their hand a little bit. You know? But, like I said, it doesn’t have anything to do with me, I just have to be ready for when it happens.