One up-and-coming knuckleballer we’re keeping an eye on is Mickey Jannis, whom we posted about a couple of times in June—first about a near-no-hitter he pitched with the Ducks against York Revolution, then about his 2012 switch to full-time knuckleballer.
After Jannis signed with the Mets organization later this summer, he told ESPN’s Adam Rubin that as a kid he had emulated Tim Wakefield, and as a pro ball player he had emulated R.A. Dickey; and that he’s gotten pitching tips from fellow knuckleballers Phil Niekro and Charlie Hough.
In recent years, Jannis has had more opportunity to develop his knuckleball and been more determined to do so.
“Once I got released [by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011], R.A. Dickey had a lot of success with the Mets,” said Jannis, who originally was a 44th-round pick in 2010 by the Rays out of Cal State Bakersfield. “I was kind of looking at that. As a pitcher throwing 90 mph from the right side, it’s kind of the average righty. So I knew it would be kind of hard to get back into affiliated [baseball] that way. So I wanted to stick out from the crowd. It’s been a three- or four-year development process. It’s worked out so far.”
Jannis actually began fiddling with the knuckleball at age 12. Shortly thereafter, he watched a cable show featuring Tim Wakefield’s knuckleball and changed his grip from using three fingers to two fingers. He tried to throw the baseball as hard as he could with that new grip and saw instant success.
“The guy couldn’t catch it,” Jannis said. “So I just kind of fooled around with it ever since then.”
He always mentioned to his coaches that he had a knuckleball, but was dissuaded from using it in games.
Last week, William Boor of Mets.Mlb.com observed that fine-tuning his knuckleball
is not the only transition Jannis has had to make. The Rays used Jannis primarily out of the bullpen while the Mets have been using him as a starter.
However, he has navigated that adjustment well. In the Arizona Fall League, facing more advanced hitters, Jannis has a 1.88 ERA in 24 innings across five starts.
“It’s going pretty well,” Jannis said of his stint in the AFL. “I’ve been working on a few mechanical changes and every time out I feel a little more comfortable.”…
Once with the Mets, Jannis split his time between Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton, where he went a combined 2-3 with a 3.55 ERA in 11 games (10 starts)….
Life in the independent leagues wasn’t easy, but Jannis’ pitches still had life and as long as he could compete at a high level, he was intent on pursuing his dream.
“I was having success. I told myself that as long as I was still having success and getting guys out, I was going to give myself a shot,” Jannis said. “With the knuckleball there’s no age limit, so I knew I always had a shot.”
And here’s a coda about hero-journeys, felling, beast, foxtrots and Mickey Jannis by mlb.com’s Michael Clair:
A knuckleballer’s journey to the Majors is never easy, as they must go through a Joseph Campbell-like hero’s journey of self discovery before felling great club-swinging beasts who can crush 95-mph pitches a great distance with a ball that simply foxtrots on its way to the plate. Given Jannis’s performance this year in the Arizona Fall League, this former 44th-round pick may find himself nearing the end of that story as he tries to force the Mets’ hand next spring.