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Corey Knebel: Anything left to learn?

The supplemental first round pick has been dominating the minor leagues. Is he ready for a call up?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After being selected in the supplemental first round last year with the 39th pick, it's reasonable to put high expectations on Corey Knebel. Selected out of the University of Texas, Detroit originally believed that the 6'3" righty would be brought up as a starter, as he certainly has the repertoire to throw 200 innings at a high level. However, Knebel has an affinity for the pen, and for good reason. I won't spiral into the topic of starter mentality vs. reliever mentality, because that's a slippery slope, yet Knebel is wired a bit diferently than most-- he's a reliever through and through.

A couple of weeks ago, I ranked Knebel as the 6th best prospect in the Tigers system. Here's an excerpt (and the full list):

Knebel features a 92-97 mile-per-hour fastball, with plenty of tilt and some arm side wiggle. It has very good life, and doesn't often get squared. He's not afraid to challenge, and when he's right, can spot this pitch to all four quadrants of the zone. His fastball command, while not perfect, is definitely advanced for a guy his age, and if we're being really honest here, would probably be second best on the Tigers right now to Joe Nathan. He has a hard breaking ball in the low 80s with bite and two plane movement. I don't really care what you call it: a slider, a slurve, a curve, a gyroball, whatever. All I know is that this pitch is a true plus pitch, with the potential to wreak havoc on major league hitters. He can also fade a change up if he wants to, but it's more of a show-me pitch at this point, although I've seen him toss it for strikes.

In addition, I posted a link to my scouting notes from last year, where I sat on a Knebel outing. He's a max effort guy, going all out for the short time he's out on the mound, but isn't that what you want from a short burst pitcher? His mentality is basically to shove the baseball where the sun don't shine, which is something I love to see in a young pitcher. Yet, the question remains: is it time for Corey Knebel to come to Detroit and help a struggling Tigers pen?

While Knebel is one of the best 7 relievers in the organization at this time, and frankly, that's not really saying much, I don't believe it's quite time to bring him to the bright lights. He still has refinements to make, specifically, fastball command, which Lynn Henning and Jamie Garcia, AA Erie pitching coach, spoke about in this piece. As I said in the report when I ranked Knebel, the fastball command struggles are relative. He's not Jose Ortega out there, and while the command may be a bit below average from a major league sense, he'd still be able to get outs if you dropped him on the mound in Detroit tomorrow. Moreover, do any Tigers relievers have fastball command? Not exactly.

But, I don't believe Knebel needs to be brought up quite yet. He's only appeared in 36 games in pro ball, and thrown 44 innings in total. Pushing a guy too fast could adversely affect development, and while I do agree that the Tigers bullpen is a dumpster fire, I don't believe Knebel is ready to fix the struggles on his own. Before the season, I predicted 25-30 AA appearances as a barometer for a call up, which would fall sometime around June. That time table may be expedited slightly, as the pen has gone from "this might be a problem" to "does anyone have Franklyn German's number" in the course of four weeks.

In the next few appearances, expect Knebel to be working on things. He may even get hit a bit. Reports out of Erie, courtesy of Tom Reisenweber, stated that some high ranking Tigers brass, including Al Avila, were sitting on this weekend's series. That means they've most likely discussed, with Corey specifically, what he needs to improve on in order to become a major league bullpen member. At the top of that list is fastball command, so you're probably going to see quite a few fastballs in counts where Corey may typically throw his hammer curve or a change up. Fastball command is the last piece in the puzzle for Knebel, as he has all of the ingredients to get outs late in games for the Tigers. I'd expect to see him working on specific things in the next few outings, and the Tigers will reevaluate from there. Knebel is on the precipice, just be patient for a little while longer.