As we start to cover NC State baseball this season, we are also going to put a little more time into covering Pack players in the majors.
Sure, you have Trea Turner of the Nationals who could compete for the MVP at some point in his career, and Carlos Rodon who had ace written all over him until his recent shoulder struggles. But after that, who is next? Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at some former Wolfpack players who are making a name for themselves in the minor leagues and may soon be getting their call to the big show.
The first couple guys we are going to focus on are a duo drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, catcher Andrew Knizer and third third baseman, Evan Mendoza. Both of whom are budding starts in their farm system.
Andrew Knizner (C)
Knizner is a kid who played all over the diamond in his career at NC State, but no matter where you put him, he hit. Over his career at NC State he hit .312 and hit 15 HRs, but the real reason everyone loves his bat so much is because he’s an elite contact guy who will take a walk and rarely strikes out.
Since being drafted he batted .308 and hit 18 HRs in his three stops in the minors. The Cardinals have converted him to a full-time catcher, creating a debate over whether he or Carson Kelly (#1 rated catcher in their system) is the backstop of the future for the Cardinals.
Knizner was listed as one of ‘5 to watch’ in the Cardinals system by the St. Louis Dispatch. Here is what they had to say:
Catcher Andrew Knizner had a strong turn in the Arizona Fall League and positioned himself as the Cardinals’ top prospect at his position not named Carson Kelly. He’s Carson Kelly 2.0. Like Kelly, he moved from infield to catcher and has gone from learning the position to shining in it. His bat, also like Kelly, is catching up, and that gives the Cardinals some depth down the road.
The current catcher for the Cardinals is Yadi Molina. He is a future Hall of Famer and just signed a 3-year deal this past April, so he isn’t going anywhere.
So where does that leave the Kelly/Knizner situation? That is a good question. I think a lot depends on how Knizner performs this season. If he continues to progress, then the Cards could see Kelly as a major trade chip that they could use to acquire talent somewhere else. This would mean St. Louis was betting all their chips on Knizner as their future catcher. This is certainly a situation to watch.
Here is Knizner flashing some opposite field power with a game winning walk-off homer.
Evan Mendoza (3B)
We recently told you that many around the Cardinals organization already think highly of Mendoza, some even seeing him as the best 3B in their system.
His sophomore season was when he really shined, hitting a solid .362 with 4 HRs and 20 walks. He also finished up with a really nice.866 OPS
Since joining the Cards’ Low-A affiliate (The State College Spikes) he’s done nothing but impress. His .370 average over 41 games earned him the league’s batting title and a promotion to high-A ball.
Since he’s only been a pro for less than a year, the jury is still out on him, but the St. Louis Dispatch also ranked him as one of the ‘5 to watch’ in the Cardinals farm system, saying this:
Infielder Evan Mendoza had one of the best season for a 2017 draft pick, and is going to get some looks as a sleeper top prospect. Mendoza, 21, was the Cardinals’ 11th-round pick (so he could get the higher bonus) out of NC State. He hit .339/.388/.508 at two Class A levels this past season, and he finished the year with a .896 OPS. Also, solid at third.
Unlike Knizner, Mendoza’s path the pros is a little more clear. The Cards really aren’t really enamored with any of their 3B prospects and their current 3B Jedd Gyorko is signed through 2021, which should be a year after Mendoza is ready for a jump to the bigs. If Mendoza can push his way up, Gyorko would likely be swung in a deadline deal in 2020.
Here is Mendoza going yard for the Pack against UNC during his Junior year.
We’ll keep you updated on these guys journey through the minor leagues as the season gets going.