In 2019, the Seattle Mariners barely missed out on a local bluechip dynamo in Lakeside High School outfielder Corbin Carroll. 2021 provides the organization a second chance of sorts in Marysville-Getchell High School phenom Malakhi Knight.
It’s true. In 2019, Seattle had quite a bit of interest in Carroll who ultimately went four picks before they could call in his name to league offices. The pick eventually turned into Elon righty George Kirby, a pick that, to date, appears rather strong. But Kirby was another college arm, a demographic the Mariners have become quite synonymous with taking in the first round of any given draft.
Knight represents a departure from that strategy. He’s a young, athletic, super-projectable outfielder with the physical markers that of a potential future stud.
At 6-foot-3, nearly 200 pounds, Knight is a physical specimen. It’s a lean, lanky, strong build. His shoulders are tall and broad, sitting under a longer neck. Knight has an athletic core with a smaller waist, long levers and muscular forearms. There’s no barrel chest to speak of, he’s still pretty lean in his upper body. He doesn’t look like a 200-pound athlete. He’s still putting on good weight. The body isn’t yet fully physically matured. There’s plenty of physical projection remaining here, and it wouldn’t surprise me if we’re talking about a 220-pound centerfielder at his peak.
Every time I go see '21 OF Malakhi Knight (Marysville, WA), it gets better. Up to 200lbs, 10lbs stronger than June. Immensely projectable frame. Broad shoulders, lean strength. Big, strong forearms. More good weight coming. Love the swing/bat path.— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) February 2, 2021
⬇️ Day one talent ⬇️#MLBDraft pic.twitter.com/ElL7OUKsyO
Knight is a star basketball player too. He’s one of the top players in the state, and a frontrunner by some to be the 3A Player of the Year in 2021. Studies by USA Baseball have shown people who play multiple sports have better coordination and strength across the board due to more variety in athletic movements and lessening the risk of overuse injuries. As obvious as it may sound, playing multiple sports across different seasons creates a more well-rounded athlete.
Safe to say not only is Knight “playing” other sports, he’s excelling.
Off the field, the Marysville native is a reasonably soft-spoken guy with a quiet confidence about him. In talking with him, he knows he’s blessed with talent, but he’s not in any hurry to flaunt it or let you know. That translates to the field as Knight has a propensity to let his play do the talking.
As for the Mariners, with the rebuild nearly complete, the organization can now afford to take some more risks at the top of the draft. The farm system seemingly has waves of talent coming for the next few years. Seattle has the luxury of supplementing just about any level of its future tiers. Sure there’s college arms that could contribute in 2023, but why not shoot higher? Why not go full-Gamestop and shoot to the moon?
Frankly, this applies to most organizations in 2021, not just the Mariners. Teams will have a lot more information on preps than they will college players come draft day in July. College baseball pretty much didn’t exist in 2020 with the exception of some non-conference bloodbaths. It’s a stacked crop of prep position players this year, a group that has had the opportunity to show time and time again how talented it is. College players have not had that luxury.
As for the tools, well they’re loud too. Knight is a really well-balanced player on the field, and that’s something that’ll be necessary should he expect to stick up the middle of the diamond as one develops in professional ball.
TOOLS (Future Value)
Knight has always had good bat-to-ball skills and his approach at the plate has really taken strides over the past twelve months. He’s worked hard try to use the entire field more, working gap-to-gap and that’s paid dividends in high school showcases last summer.
Knight works from an upright stance with his hands lagged back in an athletic position ready to fire. He’s got a short, quick stroke to the ball and showcases a consistent attack angle that produces hard line-drives. His swing induces a natural backspin on the baseball and showcases a good bit of carry on fly balls in batting practice. The swing itself reminds me a great deal of Ryan Braun.
Knight is still working on weight transfer and his spine angle at the plate to ensure he’s optimizing what he can get out of his body, but the pure, intrinsic ability to impact the baseball is undeniable.
Malakhi Knight continues to impress. Extends well here on a low&outside corner sinker for a hard GB, clocked at 94 MPH exit velo. That's pretty substantial for a pitch in that location... let alone a ground ball. An obvious error on defense, but that's not important. #PGNational pic.twitter.com/N2nE35SNAl— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) June 18, 2020
There’s not an excessive amount of swing-and-miss in Knight’s game either. He’s a patient hitter at the plate, and generally hunts fastballs he can drive. He’s had a little issue with velocity up-and-in, and that may be a product of initiating his swing with lower hands, but as a prep, that’s not really something teams should worry about when considering drafting him. The biggest takeaway from Knight’s in-game performances is he’s a patient hitter with a mature approach and a knack for finding and impacting the barrel of the bat.
There’s a good bit of punch in Knight’s bat, a trait he had no problem showcasing this summer.
Goodness. Marysville's Malakhi Knight just absolutely annihilated a baseball. 101 EV and an estimated 390 feet. Some Mookie in that bat path. Took Ty Sexton WAY out.— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) August 9, 2020
Knight is having another really good week. Tons of helium.
Credit my guy @TylerJennings24 w/the money footage. pic.twitter.com/W9eBbn3O3P
Here’s the thing... when you’re as strong as Knight and you employ a swing and attack angle like this, you’re going to do a good bit of damage. It’s not a swing specifically designed to hit home runs either. Knight’s swing is built for the modern game. It’s an aggressive, Nolan Arenado-esque vertical bat angle, and that sort of swing is going to eat. He creates a lot of backspin on the baseball and has shown the ability to drive the ball against top-tier arms.
Not to get to into the weeds here, but creating this sort of loft without selling out your back hip/backside is pretty rare, especially for someone his age. Notice the shoulder tilt without dropping his back shoulder with his hips. There are guys that simply can’t get into this position without hinging as they start the swing. I’m not going to sit here and act like I’m some kind of hitting instructor, because I’m not. Nothing close, actually. But I played enough ball, and have watched enough ball to know something when I see it.
The TL;DR version of this is Knight produces impressive exit velocities and has shown the ability to lift and drive the ball. He’s got a physical body that should continue packing on strength. He’s a pretty good bet to provide some juice at the plate as a pro. If the body grows off of centerfield, there might be even more in the tank.
For now, Knight certainly has the potential to be a plus runner at the next level. The biggest question mark surrounding his future speed might be the direction in which his body goes. On one hand, he’s got a lean frame right now. That bodes well for the speed sticking around. On the other, if he packs on 20 or more pounds of muscle, the tool might begin to regress a tick.
Knight is a super athletic kid who takes long strides on the base paths and in the field. He’s likely no worse than an above average runner at the next level. He ran a 6.64 60-yard dash at the Perfect Game National Showcase in June, easily a “plus” grade. With more lean muscle, there stands a chance Knight creeps into the double-plus category too.
The variance in where his run tool will end up is reasonably wide right now, but in any outcome, it will be an asset and a valuable tool on the field. Much of this depends on the trajectory of his body.
If we’re projecting Knight as a centerfielder, he’s got the tools to be a solid average-to-above average defender at the next level. Knight gets good breaks on the ball and has shown the ability to take good routes to the spot.
Hello, Malakhi Knight! Great running catch on a ball smoked by Braden Montgomery. Kid is really coming on strong this summer... pic.twitter.com/y0TZVhkngV— Joe (@JoeDoyleMiLB) September 4, 2020
The speed is an obvious asset in centerfield, and serve him well in balls in the gaps. He’s also shown the ability to come in on balls and shows sound footwork when getting the ball back in.
Not too many examples of in-game throwing from Knight to pull from this summer, but in his individual workouts, he performed well. He’s been able to put plenty behind his throws and according to Perfect Game, those throws have shown some carry.
Malakhi Knight is one of the better high school outfielders in this draft class, and being in Seattle’s backyard, makes a lot of sense for the Mariners. Selecting him with the 12th pick in the draft may be a little too rich for their blood, but Scott Hunter and Jerry Dipoto should jump at the opportunity to draft Knight should he somehow fall to pick no. 50.
I had one scout slap an Austin Jackson comparison on Knight and I don’t think that is too farfetched. I think there’s a touch more juice in the bat than what Jackson displayed, but he’s a career .273 hitter who stole 18 bags per year in his peak.
At the end of the day, I think Knight is going to be a guy who is a capable of being a .275/.350/.440 15-15 type player who staples himself into the two-hole for a lineup for a very long time.