Andrew Knapp's Cal Ties Run Deep
HOUSTON—Andrew Knapp has waited patiently for his chance to follow in his father's footsteps and serve as California's everyday catcher.
Mike Knapp was a standout catcher for Cal in the mid-1980s, and he went on to spend 11 seasons as a catcher in pro ball. His son Andrew ranked as a Top 200 prospect for the 2010 draft out of Granite Bay (Calif.) High, but he knew he was destined for Berkeley. His younger brother Aaron, an athletic outfielder, is a high school senior with a Cal commitment for next year.
"There's a long tradition," Golden Bears coach David Esquer said. "When you know Cal and the alumni we have, they bleed blue and gold—they're all in. Those are the type of people we love having in our program."
"I was going to go to Cal since the day I was born," said Andrew Knapp, now a junior. "I've always been a Cal Bear and I always will be."
But he hasn't always been Cal's catcher during his collegiate career. Chadd Krist had a stranglehold on that job during Knapp's first two years in Berkeley, which were spent playing first base and the outfield. Knapp hit .212 and made just 15 starts as a freshman, but he started 54 games last year and showed flashes of his intriguing offensive potential, hitting .265/.347/.412 with five homers. All the while, Knapp served a valuable apprenticeship under Krist, who signed as a ninth-round pick after his 2012 senior year.
"Chadd's a hell of a catcher. The guy is one of the best defensive catchers out there," Knapp said. "I learned a ton from Chadd—the work ethic part of it, how to manage the game, how to do everyday drills to get myself ready before a game. Being able to watch him play for two years definitely gave me that much more of a higher standard for myself. And I got to play first base and the outfield, play the game from a different perspective. So I'm really glad I got to be behind Chadd for that time."
While Knapp did not emerge as a star during his first two seasons at Cal, he enhanced his prospect status during each of the last two summers. He posted the second-highest batting average (.400) in Northwoods League history in 2011, then hit .293 with eight homers last summer in the Cape Cod League. Major league scouting directors voted him onto Baseball America's 2013 preseason All-America first team largely on the strength of his summers, even though he spent almost all of last summer at first base.
Scouts have so far been disappointed with Knapp's defense behind the plate this spring. Through 16 games, he has five passed balls and three errors, and two-thirds of basestealers have been successful against him (eight of 12).
"The thing with Knapp is, he's a switch-hitter, and he happens to be behind the plate during games," one Northern California area scout said. "I've seen him box six or seven balls in a game. He'll show you the arm strength—just pure arm strength, it's an average arm."
Esquer acknowledged that Knapp's development behind the plate is progressing "a little slowly," but the Golden Bears are committed to him as their catcher, and they want to create a nurturing environment for him.
"Andrew is a developing player with a world of talent and a great future ahead of him," Esquer said. "We're in no hurry, necessarily, that he's going to be a finished product right away. I think that's what he's going to be battling all year with the expectations behind him. Other people may want to see more or put some demands on him. We're along for the ride; we know he has to develop. We're here to see him through it and help him through it.
"He needs to relax. He wants it badly, and he's putting some pressure on himself to become the whole package immediately. And I think he just hasn't found that relaxation part of the game where he's having fun in the game, (where) he's trusting himself. He wants to be there for our team. I don't think his frustration is that he's hurt his future or his draft status, I think the frustration is he thinks he's not helping us enough."
Over two weekends in March, Knapp started to emerge as the middle-of-the-lineup threat the Bears hoped he could be. His surge started with a four-hit, three-RBI game against Houston at the Astros Foundation College Classic. He crushed a home run to left field and ripped a double to left-center field in Cal's 13-2 win that Sunday.
The following weekend, Knapp went 5-for-14 (.357) with three runs, two RBIs and a double in Cal's four-game sweep of Fresno State. That raised his season line to .333/.370/.500 with two homers, five doubles and 14 RBIs.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Knapp has a pretty line-drive swing from both sides of the plate, and he is strong enough to hit for power, but when he's locked in he's a doubles machine.
"He's got power. When he hits a double in a game, it looks like a big league double—I mean, it does," Esquer said. "When he's going well, he uses the middle of the diamond, and he hits it low versus high. The home run is a mishit for him. But when that becomes contact point A, then the game gets away from him. Then he'll go 1-for-11. Whereas, if he takes the ball up the middle, those opportunities will happen naturally.
"He's got to develop consistency and offense against the elite—those are things people are looking for as well. He'll get there. We've just got to make sure we're on the development side on him."