Orioles pitching prospect Blaine Knight has bounced back from a rough 2019 season with his on-field performance this year … and it’s been an exciting time for Knight off the field, too.
In late July, Knight and his wife, Rachel, welcomed a baby boy, William:
Knight, 25, was drafted out of Arkansas in the third round of the 2018 MLB Draft. Since then, he’s had an up-and-down run in the Orioles organization, but he’s now with Triple-A Norfolk. And with a baby boy, he has even more reason to eventually make it to the big leagues.
“For me, I think it is another motivation piece. If I go and do my job well, I’ll be able to take care of him and my wife for a long time,” Knight said on Glenn Clark Radio Aug. 12. “They’re not going to have to struggle for anything and do any of that. It’s another motivation piece for me, especially when it’s getting to the latter half of the season and we’re all tired and sore and everything else. I’ve got to keep grinding and keep plugging away at this thing because it’s a very good end result if I do make it all the way up.”
Knight hit a major speed bump along his path to the major leagues in 2019, when he went 1-12 with a 6.13 ERA, 56 strikeouts and 39 walks in 83.2 innings with Frederick, then the Orioles’ High-A affiliate. Though he had a dominant five-start stretch with Low-A Delmarva prior to that, his time at Frederick “just left a really bad taste in [his] mouth,” he said.
Knight didn’t have a chance to redeem himself in 2020 because the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the minor-league season. Though he wasn’t invited to the alternate site last summer, he did get to pitch in fall instructs in Sarasota.
Knight reported to High-A Aberdeen after spring training this year, and he posted a 2.41 ERA with 16 strikeouts and one walk in 18.2 innings to earn a promotion to Bowie. He had a 5.04 ERA with 44 strikeouts and 15 walks in 44.2 innings with the Baysox before being promoted to Norfolk Aug. 16.
So what the heck happened in Frederick in 2019?
“It was a matter of me basically not doing what my game plan is and what it’s always been and that’s just attacking hitters,” Knight said. “I was too busy trying to get strikeouts because K/9 is a big thing right now. I get my strikeouts, but I force contact and I get strikeouts when I need them. I tried to completely change the way I did stuff and went about how I attacked hitters. It backfired. I couldn’t pick the ball back up and keep going and make the momentum shift my direction in ’19.”
It’s also helped to throw to catcher Adley Rutschman this year, something Knight will get to do again now that both players are with the Tides. Knight had pitched against Rutschman in the 2018 College World Series when Knight’s Arkansas team lost to Rutschman’s Oregon State squad in the finals. He had also thrown to him in spring training.
But the first time Knight had thrown to Rutschman consistently was with the Baysox earlier this year. Knight said Rutschman “manages a staff really, really well.”
“You want to throw to that guy. He’s going to fight for you tooth and nail back there,” Knight said. “He’s going to do anything and everything to help you succeed. He’s an awesome teammate and an awesome guy to be around. You don’t see many catchers that come out there after an inning’s over and meet you halfway and tell you good job and this is what he thinks or this is what you did well and this is what we’re going to do this next inning. He’s really good about pumping his pitchers up and making his pitchers work for him.”
Knight is also very familiar with Heston Kjerstad, the Orioles’ top pick in 2020. Kjerstad was on that 2018 Arkansas team along with Knight and eventually became the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft thanks to a stellar college track record (.345/.425/.587 with 35 home runs from 2018-2020). However, Kjerstad has not hit the field for the Orioles yet due to a serious bout with myocarditis.
Knight has kept in touch with Kjerstad but has tried to give his college teammate some space as well.
“He’s doing well last I talked to him,” Knight said. “I know he’s itching to get back. But they’re going to figure out something with him as far as being able to get him back on the field here soon I hope. That dude, he’s something else. He is something else, and I know it’s driving him crazy not to be able to play because that’s all that kid does. I mean, he eats, sleeps and breaths baseball. That’s all he does.”
And once Kjerstad does get back on the field, Knight believes he’ll get back into the swing of things quickly. Kjerstad has not played competitively since college baseball was shut down in March 2020.
“I think he’ll handle it fine. Heston’s a good kid. He’s got a level head on his shoulders,” Knight said. “He’s going to be eager to get back and he’s going to be anxious just because it’s been so long for him. But once he gets his feet wet again, I’m not worried about Heston. I’ve never been worried about him when it comes to that.”
For more from Knight, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credits: William Vaughan/Bowie Baysox