This one might sting a bit for some fans. Corey Knebel was touted as a potential closer when he was selected by the Tigers with the 39th overall pick of the 2013 draft. The hype only intensified as Knebel posted a 0.87 ERA and 1.66 FIP in 31 innings at Low-A West Michigan that year.
Heading into 2014, Knebel was not expected to make the team out of Spring Training. He was considered a potential midseason call-up who, if everything broke right, could see some high leverage innings toward the end of the season.
Instead, the call-up came a bit earlier than expected and a midseason trade to a team with no playoff aspirations killed any chance of him pitching in a pennant race.
After a strong spring -- he threw four scoreless innings in Grapefruit League action -- Knebel broke camp with Double-A Erie. Like his performance in the Midwest League in 2013, Knebel was able to overpower hitters with his power fastball-curveball arsenal. He struck out 23 hitters in 15 innings, allowing a 1.20 ERA. Opposing batters hit .154/.262/.250 with one home run off him, the only one he would allow with the Tigers' organization in 2014. The only blemish on Knebel's record was a 13 percent walk rate.
The command issues weren't enough of a deterrent from earning a call-up to Triple A, though. Knebel had a quick cup of coffee with the Toledo Mud Hens, working four scoreless innings across three appearances in mid-May.
This promotion would amount to little more than a layover. Knebel was called up to the majors on May 22nd, just 10 days after he was promoted to Toledo. He would make his MLB debut two days later against his future employer, allowing three runs on two hits and two walks in an inning of work.
The Tigers stuck with him, and Knebel responded fairly well. He worked a couple of scoreless outings before giving up a pair of runs against the Toronto Blue Jays on June 4th, then worked a pair of scoreless innings against the Chicago White Sox before being sent back down to Toledo. He had allowed a 6.75 ERA in 6 2/3 innings during his first stint in the big leagues, but totaled eight strikeouts and did not allow a home run.
Knebel finally experienced a bit of stability after his demotion, spending the next month in Toledo. He struck out 16 batters in 14 1/3 innings during that stretch, allowing a 2.51 ERA. Opposing batters hit just .091 off him, showing just how tough he can be on the mound. Knebel's walk rate remained high, however, as he gave out eight free passes. He was recalled to Detroit after the All-Star break, allowing two runs (one earned) in two appearances.
This would be the end of Knebel's tenure in Detroit. One day after his appearance against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Knebel and pitching prospect Jake Thompson were traded to the Texas Rangers for closer Joakim Soria. I called the deal a "massive overpay" at the time, as Knebel's peripherals and upside indicated that he was not as bad as his 6.23 MLB ERA suggested. Thompson's potential also played a factor in this assessment, especially considering his excellent performance at an advanced level in the first half of the season.
Knebel spent a month pitching for the Round Rock Express, Texas' Triple-A affiliate in the Pacific Coast League. He allowed a 3.75 ERA while striking out 20 batters in 12 innings before missing the rest of the season with a right elbow injury.
A sample of just 8 2/3 innings -- and rushed innings, at that -- is not enough to base a grade around. Knebel showed a lot of promise, striking out 74 batters in 54 innings across all levels. His high walk rate signals that the command still needs work, though. Knebel had a decent stretch run in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, and should have a chance to make the Rangers' 25 man roster in 2015 if his elbow is healthy.