DETROIT -- Corey Knebel wasn't on the Draft radar out of high school. In fact, he wasn't even on the radar for the University of Texas until a scholarship opened up three summers ago, just days before he was heading to junior college.
Less than a year later, he was the latest and greatest in the long line of Longhorn closers, following in the tradition of Huston Street and matching the Texas single-season saves record. Then this summer, he was simply trying to stay on the field.
The biggest surprise of all, though, came Thursday night when the Tigers called. With that, Knebel became a first-round pick.
"It was a huge surprise, actually," Knebel said in a phone interview late Thursday evening. "I didn't think I was going in the first round, so I just kind of waited around the phone and hung out with my family and I got a call."
Technically, the Tigers selected Knebel with a supplemental pick, the first traded Draft slot in Major League history. Detroit acquired the 39th overall pick from the Marlins as a throw-in to the Anibal Sanchez trade last July, taking advantage of the new rules for competitive-balance picks.
It supplemented the Tigers' own first-round pick, the 20th overall selection. But for a Detroit squad that hadn't selected on the first day since 2010, it was a huge bonus.
The Tigers used the pick on one of the most accomplished closers in his school's history, bringing Knebel into an organization that has its share of bullpen concerns at the big league level. For now, however, Knebel's future might not be in relief.
"They've seen me pitching a lot," Knebel said. "They saw me two weeks ago, and I think they've been thinking about me as a starter."
Knebel has had that in mind since the Longhorns' season ended, working out with University of Texas pitching coach Skip Johnson on stretching out his arm, increasing his stamina and mixing his pitches.
Whatever the role, Knebel fits the power-pitching profile the Tigers have sought in the Draft for years.
Knebel is a 6-foot-4 righty boasting a power fastball that sits in the mid-90s and tops out around 98 mph. He complements it with two different breaking balls, a 12-to-6 curveball in the low 80s and a slurve.
He also has dusted off a changeup he threw as a starter but put away in relief.
"I'll definitely have four pitches," Knebel said.
His three pitches were nasty enough in his old role. Knebel went 3-4 with a 3.38 ERA and nine saves this season, striking out 51 batters over 40 innings while allowing just 25 hits. Opponents batted just .179 against him. Add in 28 saves over his first two seasons, and Knebel sits just four saves shy of Street's school career record.
Nineteen of those saves came as a freshman, when Knebel became one of college baseball's Cinderella stories.
"In all honesty, what happened with me I was a starter in high school, and I came to UT by surprise," Knebel said. "I thought I was just going to be a reliever. I never knew what a closer was until I became a closer. I knew of Huston Street. I knew he was a really good pitcher here. I ended up being told I was going to be the closer after a few games of coming in at the end of games."
With instruction from his pitching coach, he gained about 10 mph on his fastball. He came and threw, dealt with the butterflies and and fed off the adrenaline.
When Knebel briefly became a starter near the end of his sophomore season, it was a transition.
"I do feed off all the adrenaline as a closer. That's really what got me going," he said. "When I became a starter, it was a lot different for me. It was hard to handle at the beginning in college, and I was more relaxed, surprisingly. It was a lot different feeling, but it was good."
Knebel was back to closing this spring, but missed games cost him, as he was suspended twice from the Longhorn squad this season. He missed a series against Kansas for a violation of team rules.
Knebel was also suspended for a series against Kansas State for providing a urine sample for a teammate's test, as first reported by the Austin American-Statesman.
The suspensions shouldn't reflect on Knebel's makeup. He was an academic All-Big 12 selection who had no previous disciplinary history. He's just a few semesters shy of his degree.
When he came to Texas, Knebel thought he'd be leaning on his education for a career when he was done. Now, he's getting his chance at pro ball.
"I've never been this excited before," he said. "This is what I want to do with my life. This is my dream, and I'm not going to stop until I pursue my dream."
Tigers select Florida righty Crawford with 20th pick
DETROIT -- The Tigers' return to the first round of the First-Year Player Draft took them back to a familiar theme: They went for power pitching.
With the 20th overall selection Thursday night, the Tigers selected University of Florida right-hander Jonathon Crawford, sticking with the organizational belief that a team can never have enough pitching. In Crawford's case, the Tigers are hoping they have their latest pitching prospect to follow in the footsteps of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly and since-traded Jacob Turner.
The Tigers followed with the 39th pick by selecting University of Texas closer Corey Knebel, a hard-throwing right-hander with the chance to move quickly through the farm system. Detroit then rounded out Day 1 by tapping Vanderbilt University's squad for left-hander Kevin Ziomek with the 58th pick.
|1||HOU||RHP Mark Appel|
|2||CHC||3B Kris Bryant|
|3||COL||RHP Jonathan Gray|
|4||MIN||RHP Kohl Stewart|
|5||CLE||OF Clint Frazier|
|6||MIA||3B Colin Moran|
|7||BOS||LHP Trey Ball|
|8||KC||SS Hunter Dozier|
|9||PIT||OF Austin Meadows|
|10||TOR||RHP Phillip Bickford|
|11||NYM||1B Dominic Smith|
|12||SEA||3B D.J. Peterson|
|13||SD||OF Hunter Renfroe|
|14||PIT||C Reese McGuire|
|15||ARI||RHP Braden Shipley|
|16||PHI||SS J.P. Crawford|
|17||CWS||SS Tim Anderson|
|18||LAD||RHP Chris Anderson|
|19||STL||LHP Marco Gonzales|
|20||DET||RHP Jonathon Crawford|
|21||TB||C Nick Ciuffo|
|22||BAL||RHP Hunter Harvey|
|23||TEX||RHP Alex Gonzalez|
|24||OAK||CF Billy McKinney|
|25||SF||SS Christian Arroyo|
|26||NYY||3B Eric Jagielo|
|27||CIN||CF Phillip Ervin|
|28||STL||LHP Rob Kaminsky|
|29||TB||RHP Ryne Stanek|
|30||TEX||SS Travis Demeritte|
|31||ATL||RHP Jason Hursh|
|32||NYY||CF Aaron Judge|
|33||NYY||LHP Ian Clarkin|
Crawford ranked 17th on MLB.com's list of top 100 Draft prospects, and was among the more highly followed college pitchers all spring after throwing a no-hitter for the Gators in the NCAA Tournament last year. With a mid-90s fastball, a solid two-seamer and a late-breaking slider, the 21-year-old has a power pitcher's foundation.
"He has a power arm with a plus slider," Tigers vice president of amateur scouting David Chadd said in a release Thursday evening, "and we're thrilled to have the opportunity to add him to our organization."
Chadd was among those who scouted the Tigers' top first-round options, including Florida at the SEC Tournament.
The key for Crawford to become the Tigers' next pitching prospect is expected to be his ability to change speeds and round out his arsenal. Crawford was working on that this year with his changeup.
"I definitely feel I can get outs with it when I need to," Crawford said in a Friday morning conference call.
Crawford had mixed results this spring in his junior season at Florida, going 3-6 with a 3.84 ERA in 15 starts. He led the Gators with 86 2/3 innings, 37 walks and 69 strikeouts. He tossed 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball with five strikeouts against Austin Peay in the NCAA Regional last week before ending up with a no-decision. He still earned a spot on the regional All-Tourney Team.
"I guess it was a pretty big challenge," Crawford said of the expectations. "I don't think I dealt with it as well as I could have."
The season, plus the rise of other college arms, took its toll on Crawford's Draft prospects after once being considered a potential top 10 pick. The talent, however, is still there, and it still drew the Tigers' attention.
Just as important for the Tigers was Crawford's work last summer with Team USA, where he went 3-0 with a 2.10 ERA in six outings. Four of those appearances came against Cuba, including most of the roster that the country took into the World Baseball Classic this spring.
"That's what attracted us to Jonathan Crawford," Chadd said in a conference call Friday morning. "When you put the whole body of work, that helped us make our decision easier."
Crawford's sophomore year was his breakout season, when he produced a 6-2 record with a 3.13 ERA, including a 2.56 ERA in Southeastern Conference play. He also made the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
In the NCAA Regionals, Crawford had his shining moment, tossing a no-hitter against Bethune-Cookman. He faced one batter over the minimum as he helped the Gators on their way to the College World Series for the second consecutive year.
For a kid who didn't make the roster as a freshman on a Florida team that reached the championship round of the College World Series, it was a major step forward.
"He's grown up a lot," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan told The Gainesville Sun earlier this year. "He's very competitive. He lets his game do his talking. …
"He's been through a lot of adversity here. He's self-made. He's earned everything he's gotten. I'm very proud of what he's been able to accomplish for us."
Knebel, who was ranked 47th on MLB.com's Draft list, follows a long line of Longhorn closers to go in the Draft. The Tigers have their own recent history with Texas relievers, having selected Chance Ruffin three years ago and Austin Wood a year earlier.
The Tigers wrapped up their opening night by going back to familiar territory with their second-round selection Ziomek.
Ziomek is the sixth Commodore drafted by the Tigers in the past three years, but he might have the best path to Detroit. MLB.com ranked him 33rd on its prospect list going in, coming off a 10-2 record and 2.05 ERA in 15 regular-season starts. He struck out 106 batters over 105 1/3 innings while holding opponents to a .190 batting average.
His fastball sits in the lower 90s, topping out around 94 according to Chadd, but his offspeed pitch and breaking ball give him a repertoire to get hitters out. He made an impression last year with a strong summer in the Cape Cod League, striking out 36 batters over 28 1/3 innings in five starts.
"We're extremely excited about Kevin's ability," Chadd said.
Like Crawford, Ziomek has the chance to boost the Tigers' pitching depth soon, helping replenish a farm system that has lost prospects the last couple years in trades to help the big league club.
All three, Chadd said, project as starting pitchers. Once they sign, Chadd said they could all begin their pro careers in the rotation at short-season Class A Connecticut of the New York-Penn League.
"We feel great about our three selections," Chadd said. "Being college pitchers, being a little more advanced, we feel good about it. Did we set up the board to go that way? No."
Day 2 of the Draft continued with Rounds 3-10, streamed live on MLB.com on Friday, beginning with a preview show at 12:30 p.m. ET. And Rounds 11-40 will be streamed live on MLB.com on Saturday, starting at 1 p.m.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. You can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.