JEWISH BASEBALL NEWS — I’ve been reading up on SP Jason Knapp of the “A” Lake County Captains (Cleveland Indians), and it’s hard not to be impressed.

Although just 19 years old — he turns 20 later this month — the right-hander is a veteran of the ups and downs that come with being a professional athlete.

He was just 17 when the Philadelphia Phillies chose him in the second round (71st pick overall) of the 2008 amateur draft, a 6’5″ flamethrower out of Annandale’s North Hunterdon High School who turned down a scholarship offer from the University of North Carolina to go pro and was rewarded with a $590,000 signing bonus.

Knapp wasted little time impressing. In six starts and 31 innings pitched for the Phil’s rookie-league team, he went 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA, struck out 38 and gave up just one HR.

His 2009 season was a mixed bag. Although Knapp went 2-7 with a 4.01 ERA, he struck out 111 batters in 85 1/3 innings. The Cleveland Indians were sufficiently intrigued that they made him the lynchpin of a 6-player trade that sent Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee to the World Series-bound Phillies.

But Knapp, who already had spent time on the disabled list for bicep tendinitis, soon succumbed to shoulder fatigue and ended up undergoing surgery. Although Baseball America didn’t lose faith — it ranked him #64 on its 2010 list of the top 100 minor-league prospects, two spots behind Ike Davis — the injuries were worrisome.

Since returning to baseball this month with the Indians’ rookie-league team, Knapp has erased a lot of those concerns.

In 5 starts, he went 0-2 with a 1.46 ERA, giving up just 2 earned runs over 12 1/3 innings and striking out 18, or roughly half the batters he faced.

That earned him a promotion to the “A” Lake County Captains, where his Aug. 20 debut was nothing short of spectacular. Knapp pitched 4 no-hit innings and struck out 7 before the Captains decided to give his shoulder a rest.

Whether Knapp becomes the next Great Jewish Pitcher remains to be seen. The big leagues aren’t like high school, where he could toss fastballs nearly 90% of the time and get by. He continues to develop other pitches and has impressed the Indians’ management with his maturity and dedication.

According to an 8/20/2010 article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Knapp “is expected to make four to six starts for Lake county and then go to the Arizona Instructional League.” Depending how that goes, next season should see him in a “AA” Akron Aeros uniform, alongside 2B (and fellow Jew) Jason Kipnis.

Not bad for 19.

— Scott Barancik