Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It takes not only talent, but also a special knack to be a successful closer in baseball, and Texas' Corey Knebel seems to have what it takes. Knebel earned the prestigious position of closer for the University of Texas Longhorns last season as a freshman, and did not disappoint.
Knebel thrived in the relief role for the Longhorns recording 19 saves, posting a 1.13 ERA, and allowing only a .151 opponent batting average. Knebel's play earned him numerous honors and awards including an All-Big 12 First Team selection, an ABCA All-Midwest Region First Team selection and was named Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball.
However, you wouldn't know that Knebel was a star closer for one of the top baseball universities in the country by the way he carriers himself. Knebel is soft spoken, laid back and is perpetually smiling.
Sophomore pitcher Nathan Thornhill attributes Knebel's success as a closer to his relaxed attitude.
"He goes out there with that goofy smile, and that goofy song of his, his laid back, fun approach to game and shows no fear," Thornhill said. "That really helps him and the rest of us deal with high pressure situations."
Coming off such a standout freshman campaign means the expectations for Knebel are even higher this year. Knebel has been named a preseason All-American and is already drawing comparisons to other great closers who have walked the Forty Acres, such as Chance Ruffin, J. Brent Cox and even Huston Street.
Knebel is aware of those high expectations and spent the offseason working to improve his game.
"I'm just focusing on keeping my arm healthy and staying on top of my game," Knebel said. "This offseason I've worked really hard with coach (Skip) Johnson to develop a curveball, so now I have more than one pitch, and I really hope I can incorporate it into my game. It's nice to have more than one pitch now."
Even though Knebel only had one pitch last year, that one pitch was a force to be reckoned with - a fastball topping out at nearly 100 miles per hour. Knebel simply over-powered batters.
This year however, Knebel is hoping to add a little finesse to game.
Growing up in Bastrop, Texas, Knebel was introduced to the game at an early age by his father Jeffrey. Knebel always dreamed of playing ball at Texas, and he credits his high school coaches at both Bastrop and Georgetown High, along with Johnson for helping him take his game to that next level and making his dream a reality.
"I learned a lot at Bastrop, and then when I transferred to Georgetown my senior year, the coaches there really pushed me and helped develop my game even more," said Knebel. "Then I came here, and Skip just did wonders for me. In just a couple of months he helped me add 10 miles per hour to my fastball."
Coming into his sophomore year Knebel is no longer the little man on campus, and he has realized he needs to be more of a leader this year for his younger teammates, especially since the Texas pitching staff includes three up-and-coming freshman.
"I try to lead by example on the field," Knebel said. "I focus on doing my job and remaining focused on the mound, and then off the field I try to be as good a role model as possible, and just try to help the young guys relax."
In seven early season appearances, Knebel is three-for-three in saves and was Texas' winning pitcher against the Patriots from Dallas Baptist University. Knebel's early season ERA is just 1.12.
"Corey is going to be a big part of our team again this year," head coach Augie Garrido said. "He earned our trust last year, and we know he is capable of great things, and I look forward to seeing him out there more and more as the season goes on."