Corey Knebel was sharp in 2015 but couldn't pick up where he left off, as an oblique injury resulted in his season debut being delayed until June. He had trouble getting started as well, allowing five runs in his first eight appearances, and he never quite managed to settle in. Knebel managed 38 strikeouts in just 32.2 innings, but he finished with a brutal 4.4 BB/9 and often paid for issuing so many free passes. He now owns a mediocre 4.03 ERA in three major league seasons despite a sharp 10.5 K/9. Knebel is just 25 in 2017 and has a high ceiling if he can rein in his control (3.5 career BB/9). But walks often come around to bite the pitchers who concede them, and Knebel is in no way immune. The Brewers seem willing to bet on his stuff winning out over his past results. He will enter spring training as the favorite to be the primary setup man after the Brewers acquired Neftali Feliz to fill their open closer's role.
Knebel tossed a scoreless eighth inning in Wednesday's victory over the Blue Jays. Knebel gave up a hit Wednesday, which is only notable because it was the first he has allowed in six appearances this season. Knebel owns a 7:2 K:BB and has not allowed a run over 5.2 innings, so the role of setup man is hardly proving too much for him to handle. Consider Knebel next in line for saves behind closer Neftali Feliz.
Knebel has thrown the ball well this spring, posting an 11:1 K:BB over six innings and allowing just two earned runs, and has caught the attention of manager Craig Counsell, who noted Wednesday that Knebel's "innings have been dominant, almost," according to MLB.com's Adam McCalvy. Knebel was tentatively on track to open the year as the Brewers' closer early in the offseason, but the team's signing of Neftali Feliz means he will not begin the new campaign in that role. Still, his impressive spring has likely earned him a prominent spot in the pecking order behind Feliz, and he may even slot in as the team's setup man. While Knebel will not be closing games out of the gate, he is likely the next best option for Brewers' saves should Feliz cede the ninth-inning duties for any reason.
Knebel is no longer expected to enter the season as the Brewers' closer after the signing of Neftali Feliz on Thursday. Prior to the Feliz signing, Knebel was the favorite to close games for the Brewers in 2017, but that won't be the case, at least not early in the season. It is possible that the Brewers will flip Feliz at the trade deadline if he is having a good season, so Knebel could still get a handful of saves, but he is now simply a speculative play in deeper leagues.
Knebel appears poised to enter spring training as the Brewers' top closer candidate, Adam McCalvy of MLB.com reports. In less than six months, Knebel has skyrocketed up the pecking order in the Brewers' bullpen, as the team shipped away their top two relievers in Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith at the trade deadline this past summer, and dealt Tyler Thornburg, who served as the team's primary closer in the second half, to the Red Sox on Tuesday. While the Brewers will likely make further additions to the bullpen as the offseason progresses, Knebel, a 25-year-old with a biting mid-90s fastball, now looks like the top option remaining in an inexperienced bullpen. Though early-season struggles resulted in Knebel spending much of the first half in the minors, he seemed to make positive adjustments upon rejoining the club after the All-Star break, posting an 18.2 K-BB% en route to a 3.43 FIP. He'll likely need to perform well in spring training in order to secure closing duties, but he could represent an attractive late-round dart for those who draft early.
Knebel secured the hold over one inning of relief in a 4-2 victory against the Rockies on Monday, allowing one walk and no hits. This was Knebel's third hold in August, the most he's accumulated in a given month since his call-up on June 9. His 22 strikeouts over 17.1 innings pitched provides some slight upside for the right-hander working in the back-half of the bullpen. However, Knebel's 5.2 BB:9 minimizes any serious fantasy impact.
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