FAYETTEVILLE — All-U-Can-Eat buffets in Northwest Arkansas might beware of the young, rangy fellow perhaps about to enter their doors.
Blaine Knight, his 6-3 frame still appearing pretty thin even gained to 170, is on a mission to eat almost rivaling those Fourth of July competitive eaters inhaling hot dogs at Coney Island.
The now junior-to-be Arkansas Razorbacks junior right-handed pitcher from Bryant spends his second consecutive summer in Fayetteville cleaning his plate.
It seems the 15 pounds that Knight gained lifting weights and eating about everything he could eat last summer in Fayetteville helped transform him from a promising 2-1 freshman in 2016 on a bad Razorbacks team into the 2017 staff co-ace on a 45-19 team finishing second in the SEC West, second in the SEC Tournament and as a regional finalist.
Knight more than did his part. He recorded a team high eight wins against four losses with a 3.28 earned run average. He struck out 96 vs. only 20 walks in 90 2-3 innings while his fastball maxed at 97 miles per hour.
The season made Knight, Major League draft eligible as a 21-year-old sophomore, a pretty high 2017 draft candidate it seemed.
But Knight had food for thought what another bulk-up summer could do both to prolong his lifelong dream to pitch for the Razorbacks and vault himself into even more favorable 2018 draft consideration.
So here he is for another Fayetteville summer consuming calories and lifting weights with Razorbacks baseball strength coach Mike Strouhal.
What’s his daily routine?
“Wake up, eat, lift, eat some more and eat after that and eat after that again,” Knight said. “Just about anything I can eat, I eat it.”
And always looks rangy.
“It’s always been tough for me to gain weight just because of how I am built and how my metabolism is,” Knight said. “I can eat a box of Oreos and lose five pounds. But the more I eat, the more it is going to help me. Keep eating and it gradually will come.”
It really hasn’t come all that gradually.
“I weighed 148 pounds when the (2016) season ended,” Knight said. “I started that season at 156, but 148, that’s what I weighed when I threw that last game at Mississippi State.”
So though he had pitched summer ball in the California League between graduating Bryant High and beginning freshman classes in August, 2015 at the UA, it was a no-brainer, Knight said,for him to bulk up in the summer of 2016 instead of pitch.
“I hope I never see 148 again,” Knight said. “I’m 168, 170 floating right now. My body feels great, the best it’s felt in a long time. Of course I’m more rested. I put on 15 pounds last year and I’m going to do my best to out on at least 15 or 20 this year. I’ve gained six so far. I think if I get to 180 before February gets here I think it will be good.”
At 180, Knight believes his fastball would register three digits.
“I know I’m going to get bigger and I know I’m going to get stronger and I know 97 is not my top,” Knight said. “So I fully intend on being 100 before this year is over.”
Reaching 100 would impress the pro scouts but it would not be the key to improving in 2018.
A fast ball’s movement beats pure speed to get batters out.
“In this league you can throw 100 and if you throw it flat, it’s going to get hit,” Knight said. “So if I can get my velo up some more and keep my movement and still locate then everything will be just fine.”
After doubling his innings his sophomore year over his freshman season, Knight hasn’t pitched even on the side this summer and said he won’t add a pitch when he resumes throwing before fall ball.
“I got four pitches (fastball, cutter, changeup and slider) that I’m happy with and they work,” Knight said. “So now I just want to locate them better and master them more than I have ever done.”
And even with co-ace Trevor Stephan, a draft eligible junior college sophomore in 2016 drafted in the third round by the Yankees after his year at Arkansas, departed, Knight sees a Razorbacks pitching staff and entire team exceeding last year’s achievements. So many young pitchers pitched so well last year that are bound to improve plus 2017 injured veterans Isaiah Campbell and Keaton McKinney prepare to return.
“I was proud of the team and our turnaround from my freshman year,” Knight said. “But we still haven’t done some of the stuff we are capable of doing and I haven’t done some of the stuff I’m capable of doing.”
Obviously it got around that Knight felt he had unfinished Arkansas business. He went undrafted into the 29th round before the Texas Rangers drafted him.
Knight didn’t sign and has passed the 2017 signing deadline. He’ll start clean for the 2018 draft.
“Everything works out for a reason,” Knight said. “ I am happy that I am back and I think it’s going to be a very good year for the Hogs.”