Cards' Knizner carries momentum into AFL

Versatile catcher continues to sparkle after skipping a level in 2017

A seventh-round pick in 2016, Andrew Knizner opened Arizona Fall League play with an 11-game hitting streak. (Buck Davidson/MiLB.com)

By Kelsie Heneghan / MiLB.com | November 6, 2017 10:30 AM ET

When Andrew Knizner was growing up, he was a shortstop. Always.

"I never thought I would ever catch a day in my life," the Cardinals' No. 27 prospect said with a laugh. "Never thought I would be behind the plate, putting on the gear every inning."

Before he put the gear on, Knizner made his first move around the diamond during his freshman year at North Carolina State because the Wolfpack already had a promising shortstop -- current big leaguer Trea Turner.

So Knizner moved to third, and the transition went smoothly as the Virginia native earned All-American honors at the hot corner. But with another season, came another move. With a shortage of catchers, Knizner was asked to move behind the plate, and there he remained for his final two college seasons.

"I'm not going to sit here and lie -- the transition was definitely tough, going from infield to behind the plate," he said. "But now that I'm in the swing of it and starting to get really good defensively, it's actually a fun position."

When the 2016 Draft rolled along, the Cardinals selected him in the seventh round as a catcher. As he continues to adjust to the position, Knizner has also gotten some reps at first base, playing 22 of his 148 pro games there.

Offseason MiLB include

"They haven't really talked to me too much about playing first base or changing positions. I think it's sort of, if you can catch, you're able to play another position," he said. "Especially being a converted guy, going back to the infield is pretty easy. So I think they want the majority of my focus to be behind the plate, because that's where I feel like my future is. But it's also nice to be versatile and be able to play other positions, like first base and even third base."

Through his first two Minor League seasons as a catcher, Knizner has thrown out 45 percent of would-be baserunners (35-for-77). After nine passed balls in 21 games with Rookie-level Johnson City last year, the 22-year-old had three in 75 games between Class A Peoria and Double-A Springfield this season.

"The hardest part for me was always blocking, and it's still something I'm working on now," he said. "The other thing is the physical aspect of being a catcher, squatting down the entire game and building your legs up. It's not bad though.

"Once you get used to catching, it's really easy and it's fun to be involved every pitch and to call games and work with the pitching staff."

Knizner has also made big strides at the plate this year. His .302 average ranked second among full-season players in the system -- to go along with his 12 homers and 51 RBIs. What's more, Knizner was hitting .279 in 44 games in the Midwest League before the Cardinals decided to have him skip Class A Advanced Palm Beach and head to the Texas League. The right-handed hitter ended up batting .324 in 51 games after the jump.

"It was a surprise, but I feel like they felt I was ready, mature enough to play at that level of competition, and I ended up having a better season in Double-A than I was having in low A," he said. "It took me a little bit of time, little bit of an adjustment period, but once I adjusted to the competition, I was pretty good."

Now in the Arizona Fall League, Knizner continues to work with Springfield hitting coach Jobel Jimenez on pitch selection and sticking with the approach that worked with the Cardinals. So far, it's paid off as Knizner earned an AFL Player of the Week award after going 8-for-17 with two homers and five RBIs over four games.

Aside from his work in the field, Knizner got the chance to see the Grand Canyon with his dad, Mike, noting that it was "absolutely unbelievable" and that pictures don't do it justice.

Knizner said he tries not to think about filling the tremendous hole that will be replacing St. Louis veteran Yadier Molina behind the plate when he eventually retires. But with Cardinals No. 2 prospect Carson Kelly already getting reps at Busch Stadium, it would make sense for Knizner to have first base as another ticket to St. Louis.

Right now, Knizner is splitting his time in the Fall League between first base and catching, though he isn't sure if that's a request the Cardinals specifically relayed to Saguaros manager Spike Owen.

"I don't know the reasoning behind the breakdown," he said. "I just go out there and play, wherever they put me."

Kelsie Heneghan is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @Kelsie_Heneghan. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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