In April, I thought Jon Knott was done. He hit .170/.274/.377 for the month and with Terrmel Sledge, Eric Valent, Walter Young, Jack Cust and Paul McAnulty all expected to play everyday at either first base, DH or the corner outfield spots, in addition to the possibility that Adrian Gonzalez could be sent down when Ryan Klesko became healthy, it seemed Knott was on the verge of being cut.
A couple things happened. Klesko underwent surgery and never came back. The Padres released Valent and Young, and oh yeah, Knott began to hit.
Knott finished the season leading the Pacific Coast league in home runs, RBI's [he led the entire minor leagues with 113 RBIs], was second in total bases and third overall in slugging percentage.
So what does this mean?
It's Knott's third full year in Portland, and in many ways he should have been given more of an opportunity in 2004, where he has put up solid numbers. In 2005, he struggled making consistent contact having an "off year" of .250/.333/.483 with 25 home runs and 78 RBIs.
This year he surpassed his 2004 season, posting career highs in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage. During his time in Portland he has posted an OPS of .909, .816, and this year's .925. He's hit 85 home runs for the Beavers and pretty much is the same player that he was in 2004, a big right-handed hitter, with a bit of a long swing that is sub par defensively in left field and first base.
But he can hit, and hit with power. As Tye Waller, the Padres former director of player development once explained, when you play left field or first base, your best position is your bat.
So does he have a chance to make the Padres in 2007?
Possibly, there is obviously nothing left for him to prove in Triple-A and at 28 he‘s pretty much the player he is now that he ever will be. The Padres have quite a few left-handed hitters, including a left-handed hitting first baseman in Gonzalez, so Knott could have a chance to make the team out of spring training but he faces long odds. He can certainly hit left-handed pitching, which he did this year at a .331 clip.
Jack Cust had a very solid year with an OPS of 1.016, but faces more of an uphill climb than Knott for the 2007 roster because he is even more limited defensively and more importantly is a left-handed hitter on a big league team with quite a few.
The best prospects in Portland were Paul McAnulty and Terrmel Sledge. McAnulty can play four positions [3B, 1B, LF and RF] and has a left-handed stroke that goes to all fields, a necessity for PETCO Park. Sledge can play all three outfield positions, a requirement for a team looking for a fourth outfield. Both also have the ability to hit for power, .500+ slugging percentages without posting high strikeout numbers.
Before the 2005 season, Knott was one of the great stories in the system. Undrafted out of Mississippi State, he had ascended to the big leagues in just three years, posting a 900+ OPS at every stop.
After his nosedive last year, the Padres were on the verge of releasing him outright at the end of spring training this year, but an injury to David Delucchi on the last day of camp freed up a roster spot for him in Portland. When he hit just .170 in April, it seemed like just a matter of days before his tenure with the organization would end.
Then, the light went back on for Jon. He blasted 10 home runs in May and rolled for the rest of the year, driving in 103 runs in his final 117 games. While it's hard to imagine him finding playing time for the Padres next year, the 28-year-old has reasserted himself as a potential trade commodity and could conceivably start in the right American League situation next year.
Speaking of which, Paul McAnulty once again posted an OPS above .900 in Portland, walking 62 times against just 79 strikeouts on the year. And, recognizing their great need in the system, the Padres also let the former college designated hitter break out a third baseman's glove. While his defense there was atrocious with a .909 fielding percentage, he did improve as the year went on and increased the possibility that he'll be with the big league club in 2007.
The Savage File:
In 2005, Jon Knott put undo pressure on himself to perform after hitting the majors the year before. It resulted in a less than average season and demanded he reaffirm his status as a viable option for the Padres. Knott answered the call in 2006 and was named to the All-PCL team as voted by general managers, field managers, and media representatives.
Setting records for RBI's and home runs, Knott had a renaissance year. Minus a terrible April, he was the most consistent bat in the lineup and downright clutch with men in scoring position, hitting 65 points above his season average. As a hitter who spent the majority of his season in the cleanup spot, Knott performed his job quite admirably.
With 312 extra base hits in 647 career minor league games, 46.5 percent of his hits overall, Knott is a legitimate power hitter. It still befuddles me why no American League team has had an interest. He isn't a terrible defender and could be a threat as a designated hitter. At some point, one would think he gets a shot everyday - somewhere.
Jack Cust deserved recognition for his season in Portland. He reached base 276 times, averaging exactly 2.0 times per contest. It is shocking that he only scored 97 runs – which, incidentally, was the second best tally in the PCL. Terrmel Sledge came into July with seven homers under his belt. He ended the year with 24, smashing 17 in his final 39 games. There was no one hotter down the stretch. Is there a better pure hitter than Paul McAnulty? His perpetual affinity to hitting wasn't marred even when he spent a good portion of the year learning a new position.
Portland Batter of the Year: Jon Knott