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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Scranton/Wilkes-Barre's Ian Kennedy remains relevant on the prospect landscape, still only two years removed from being the 21st overall selection in the First-Year Player Draft.
He's still fighting, though, for some respect, some way to prove to the Yankees' front office and the ever-skeptical pundits in New York that he was worthy of that selection.
Sacramento's Brad Knox no longer enjoys such relevance. The veteran right-hander is on the eve of becoming a six-year Minor League free agent, having snaked his way through the Oakland farm system after being chosen in the 14th round of the 2002 Draft. He's won 59 games over those six years, including going 7-5 this season, most of which was spent in the Pacific Coast League.
The way he views it, Oakland knows what it has in him. Yet, he too is battling for some respect, knowing that he may very well be pitching his last game as an A's farmhand in Tuesday's Bricktown Showdown at AT&T Ballpark. It should make for an interesting pitching matchup as the River Cats look to successfully defend their Bricktown title.
Kennedy was 0-4 in 10 games -- nine of which were starts -- with an 8.17 ERA for New York this season. He began the year as part of New York's rotation, but was demoted at the end of May. Upon his demotion, he went 5-3 with a 2.35 ERA in 13 games -- 12 starts -- for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
All along, he and the Yankees have faced criticism for the decision to make him and fellow prospect Phil Hughes part of the parent club's rotation instead of packaging them in a deal that would have landed the Yankees Johan Santana. After all, leading your club to an International League title is nice, but that's not what the Bombers were looking for from this pair.
"They refused to get one of the best pitchers in baseball to keep me and Phil and that means a lot to us," said Kennedy, who finished the 2007 season with a 13-3 record and a 1.91 ERA at four different levels. "It's an honor. I've always been the guy that's been relied on, whether it was high school, college or the Minors. So I wouldn't say I was under a microscope this year.
"I wouldn't change the way I did anything this year. It's just the way sports are. You have your ups and downs. I don't think I would have done anything differently. I wouldn't trade the year I had for anything. I got to learn a lot and learn how to deal with failure. And I got to play half a season in the big leagues. It wasn't the best year, but I learned a lot."
Some in the Yankees front office have admitted they probably rushed Kennedy and Hughes this season, knowing some more Triple-A seasoning at the beginning of the year probably wouldn't have hurt. Hughes also pitched ineffectively for New York before getting hurt early in the year and spending much of the summer on the disabled list. He returned to action last month and pitched brilliantly in the run to the Governors' Cup.
Kennedy, however, doesn't feel as though the Yanks asked too much of him too soon.
"I don't think they rushed us at all," said Kennedy, who is 0-1 with a 1.50 ERA in two playoff starts. "If I had done well, would they say they were rushing me? That's their opinion. I think I belong there and I have to show that. Playing in the big leagues is a big learning curve. I'm still trying to learn. I haven't figured it all out yet."
Knox, meanwhile, for all he's during his time with the Oakland organization, stumbled at the end of this season. During his last three starts, including a playoff outing against Salt Lake, he was 0-3 with a 21.60 ERA over 10 innings. It's not the stuff of which big league callups are made. So Tuesday's outing will provide him with an opportunity to rinse out some of the bile that has been collecting in his throat over the past two weeks.
"I thought I had a good year, but I didn't end it up very well," said Knox, who was with the Cats last year during their Bricktown win but didn't pitch. "I can't put my finger on one thing over the last three starts. But I will use it to motivate myself. I'll have a couple of days to think about it.
"I think [the A's] know what I'm capable of. I do think I need to prove more consistency-wise, though. It's been good, bad, good, bad. I know I can pitch. I think everyone knows I can pitch. But I can't do any more than I am capable of doing."
So is Knox pitching for a contract with Oakland? Perhaps. Unlike Kennedy, his future is clouded. He said he'd be back if he "heard more good things this year." He's been with Oakland a long time, though, and hasn't gotten the call he wants.
Knox said he'd move on if that's what his future holds for him. But he is quick to add that playing for the A's, in general, and Sacramento, in particular, is marvelous. He says he couldn't ask for a better situation and if he's wanted, he'll sign back with the club, 100 percent, no ifs, ands or butts.
"I just want the opportunity to call my mom and dad and tell them I'm going to the big leagues," he said. "That's where I'd like to be."
Both pitchers could take that step to a permanent position in the big leagues Tuesday night.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.