Knebel's time has come. Less than 365 calendar days ago, the Tigers selected Corey Knebel in the supplementary round of the MLB draft with the 39th pick. In need of bullpen help, the Tigers summoned him from Triple-A Toledo on Friday, taking Robbie Ray's spot on the roster.
I have posted plenty of scouting information on Knebel in the past, including this article from a month ago, proclaiming that he would be up soon. I ranked Knebel as the 6th best Tiger prospect before the season started.
Knebel primarily offers a two pitch mix. His fastball is typically in the 94-95 mile per hour range with good tilt and life. He has had some fastball command issues, but nothing that's unfixable. His curveball is in the low 80s with plus life and two plane break, and is his swing and miss offering. Knebel will infrequently throw a change-up into the mix.
Corey Knebel: Anything left to learn?
The supplemental first round pick has been dominating the minor leagues. Is he ready for a call up?
This is nice and all, but the question remains: how does this impact the Tigers bullpen going forward?
In the beginning, I expect Knebel to be transitioned into a big league bullpen like virtually any rookie. He will be given chances in lower leverage situations more frequently, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him get the ball in a close game in the first couple weeks to see how he handles the situation. Knebel loves having control with the game on the line, and his max effort delivery and strong personality on the mound are apparent.
In the meantime, you will probably see Knebel and Al Alburquerque in similar roles: entering close games in the 7th inning or earlier. Joba Chamberlain has been strong in the 8th inning setup role, and he'll continue to hand the ball off to Joe Nathan. Depending on performance, Knebel could vie for some of Chamberlain's innings as the season goes on.
If all goes according to plan, Knebel should be a bullpen mainstay for the rest of the season. He should have no problems with innings limits or appearance constraints. Even though he's only 22, the lack of minor league experience should not be a problem.
I would advise against lumping him in with highly touted relief ghosts of the past like Chance Ruffin and Ryan Perry, because, frankly, Knebel's off-speed offerings and life on his fastball are better than each of those two.
All in all, the 6'3", 22-year-old right-hander is not going to save the pen by himself. But he is a talented arm at the disposal of Brad Ausmus, and should average around a strikeout an inning.