June 6, 2023

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What makes Marysville Getchell star an elite MLB prospect?

At some point in the next few days, Malakhi Knight will almost certainly hear his name called in the Major League Baseball draft.

And most likely, pretty early on.

The recently graduated Marysville Getchell High School star is widely considered a top-100 prospect and a projected early-round pick in this year’s MLB draft, which begins Sunday and runs through Tuesday.

For Knight, this moment will be the realization of a lifelong dream, and a major milestone toward his ultimate goal of becoming a big-league ballplayer.

“It’s kind of surreal or crazy, you could say, just because I’ve been working toward this my whole life, and now it’s finally here,” Knight said. “It’s a super good feeling, but it’s crazy.”

Knight, an ultra-talented athlete who starred in both baseball and basketball at Marysville Getchell, is widely regarded as the top prospect from Washington state in this year’s MLB draft.

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound outfielder is ranked by MLB.com as the draft’s No. 95 overall prospect. Baseball America pegs him at No. 73. Keith Law of The Athletic has him at No. 69.

“Knight is an impressive athlete,” Baseball America wrote. “… There are few players in the class with better raw tools.”

Like many recent high school graduates who get picked in the early rounds of the MLB draft, Knight likely will be faced with a difficult decision between signing with the franchise that drafts him or playing college ball.

Knight, 18, currently is signed to play Pac-12 baseball at UCLA. He originally committed to Oregon State just prior to his sophomore year of high school, but switched his commitment to the Bruins last December.

“I’m gonna have to make a pretty tough choice soon — whether it’s signing (to go pro) or going to UCLA,” Knight said. “But I’m just not gonna know until when the draft actually comes and my name gets called and everything. Then I’ll go over everything with my family and my adviser and see which path is the best for me.”

Joe Doyle, the MLB draft director for Prospects Live, said he predicts Knight will be drafted somewhere between the No. 60 and No. 90 picks.

This year, the last pick of the second round is No. 63. That’s followed by the competitive balance round B, which consists of picks Nos. 64-71. The third round is picks Nos. 72-101. This year’s draft is 20 rounds.

The assigned value for pick No. 60’s signing bonus is approximately $1.16 million. The assigned value for pick No. 90 is $657,600.

Teams can go over or under those assigned values for individual players. But based on those assigned values, franchises have a total pool value for the first 10 rounds that they can’t exceed without incurring a penalty.

“Everyone that I’ve talked to seems to think that he’s gonna get paid,” Doyle said. “Pulling him away from UCLA will not be easy, but I think he’s worth the investment.”

THE 5 TOOLS

When evaluating position players in baseball, scouts typically separate a prospect’s skill set into what are referred to as the “five tools”: hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. For each tool, prospects are graded on a 20-80 scale — with 50 considered major league average.

Here’s a look at how Knight stacks up in each of the five tools, according to MLB.com, Baseball America and Doyle. The grades below are future grades, meaning they reflect the predicted level Knight can reach in the future.

Hitting

MLB.com — 45

Baseball America — 40

Doyle — 50

Experts appear a bit divided on how Knight projects as an overall hitter. Knight’s stock rose last summer after strong showings at the plate in elite events such as the Area Code Games and the Perfect Game National Showcase. But after this spring, some think he needs to make changes to his swing.

“(He) had an excellent summer showcase circuit (last year) and shot up draft boards,” Baseball America wrote, “but his stock has dropped slightly this spring due to concerns with his swing that have led some scouts to believe he will need to rework his overall approach at the plate. … When Knight is on plane, he has the ability to hit the ball to all fields, but he’s shown some swing-and-miss issues with both fastball velocity and offspeed pitches.”

Law wrote in The Athletic: “Knight is a projectable right-handed hitter with an athletic frame and a simple swing, but struggled early in the spring when he traveled to Arizona with a barnstorming team, leading to some nitpicking of his approach. He’s still a great athlete with first-round upside, but perhaps a better fit for a team willing to spend more time on his development.”

Doyle, however, projects Knight as an average hitter at the major league level.

“It’s an inside-out swing,” Doyle said. “He likes to take the ball up the middle and to the opposite field. (He has) good strike-zone discipline (and) pretty good bat-to-ball skills. When he sells out for pull-side, he can put a little more juice into it. … I think his hit tool projects pretty well, thanks to his all-fields approach and his discipline at the plate.”

Marysville Getchell’s Malakhi Knight warms up before batting during a game against Arlington on May 7, 2021, in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marysville Getchell’s Malakhi Knight warms up before batting during a game against Arlington on May 7, 2021, in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Power

MLB.com — 55

Baseball America — 55

Doyle — 45

MLB.com and Baseball America both project Knight as an above-average power hitter at the major league level.

Knight showcased his power at the Area Code Games last summer, when he launched a home run that rocketed off his bat with a 101 mph exit velocity. And over time, there’s certainly potential to add more strength to his 6-foot-3 frame.

“There’s bat speed and plenty of raw power,” MLB.com wrote.

“(He has) above-average raw power that could grow into more as he gets stronger,” Baseball America wrote.

Doyle echoed the part about Knight possessing a frame that’s full of power potential.

“Fantastic frame,” Doyle said. “Hard to find a better frame for a high school prospect. … It’s one of the better athletic frames in the entire country. Broad shoulders. Long, strong levers. Long, strong arms. Strong forearms.”

However, Doyle said he’s unsure whether Knight can maximize his potential power with his current swing.

“I currently project him as a 45 power hitter, and that’s just because he’s not shown the ability to pull the ball with authority as much as I think a lot of people want to see,” he said. “There’s some loft in his swing. He currently employs the (Los Angeles Dodgers star) Mookie Betts cut-it-off-at-the-top swing path, which works if you can get to the pull side. But some scouts are pretty divisive on whether or not it works for Malakhi, because he’s so opposite field.

“So I think you’re talking about a guy with the frame to have above-average power. … I think he has the potential to reach above-average power with significant swing changes. But I currently project him as a fringe-average power hitter, just because of how his body currently works.”

Running

MLB.com — 55

Baseball America — 60

Doyle — 60

With his elite athleticism, there’s no debating Knight’s speed and running ability. Knight ran a 6.64-second 60-yard dash in last summer’s Perfect Game National Showcase and is undoubtedly an above-average runner.

Marysville Getchell’s Malakhi Knight runs the bases during a game against Arlington on May 7, 2021, in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marysville Getchell’s Malakhi Knight runs the bases during a game against Arlington on May 7, 2021, in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Fielding

MLB.com — 50

Baseball America — 55

Doyle — 55

Knight’s speed and overall athleticism are big reasons why he projects well in the fielding category. He makes good reads in center field and can cover a lot of ground with his long strides.

“Defensively, Knight makes reads and breaks that are advanced for a high school center fielder, with an above-average arm and the running ability to stick at the position,” Baseball America wrote.

“He’s gonna be able to handle center field and run down balls in the gap, no problem,” Doyle said.

Knight’s prowess in the outfield is particularly impressive given that he’s only played there for about two years.

Knight said he played shortstop all the way up until his sophomore year of select ball. Prior to that, he had virtually no outfield experience. But after filling in at center field during a tournament that year, he moved to the position permanently.

“We were short an outfielder, and so (my coach) put me in center field and I just loved it,” Knight said. “And after that, I never went back to infield ever again. I just love outfield now.”

Throwing

MLB.com — 55

Baseball America — 55

Doyle — 50

MLB.com and Baseball America both project Knight as having an above-average arm. And even though Doyle projects Knight’s arm as average, he said that still places Knight above most players at his position.

“An average arm in center field grading-wise is actually probably in the upper third of center fielders, because center fielders on average have a 45 grade fringe-average arm,” Doyle said. “So his arm will play just fine in center, and it’s good enough to play in right field as well.”

OVERALL OUTLOOK

What makes Knight such a highly regarded prospect is his combination of baseball skills, body frame and elite athleticism. Check the game schedules of your favorite team, for instance, the Braves Schedule, and then tune in to see and analyze the players’ performance in real-time.

Knight has showcased that high-level athleticism not only on the baseball field, but also on the basketball court. During his decorated prep hoops career at Marysville Getchell, the two-sport star averaged more than 25 points per game in each of the last three seasons and led the Chargers to their first-ever state tournament appearance in 2020. Earlier this month, he was named The Herald’s All-Area Boys Basketball Player of the Year for the second consecutive season.

If Knight wasn’t pursuing a career in baseball, Marysville Getchell boys basketball coach Corby Schuh said Knight could be a point guard or a two-guard at the Pac-12 level.

“With Malakhi, what you’re talking about is the clay — the mold, the body, everything that comes with who Malakhi Knight is and what he could become in four years,” Doyle said. “I mean, that’s really what you’re betting on. He’s a gazelle of an athlete. He’s absolutely shredded — absolutely lean muscle. But he’s also 6-foot-3 (and almost) 200 pounds already, which really gives you an idea of the just inherent strength that he already has in his frame.

“Scouting is all about projecting into the future and forecasting what someone is going to look like in four years and in seven years,” he added. “And if everything breaks right for Malakhi, he’s just got such an athletic frame, such a projectable frame, that you just kind of dream on what (he) could be.”

Baseball America gave Knight an overall future grade of 50, meaning it projects him to be an average major leaguer. MLB.com gave Knight a 45 overall grade, which equates to a platoon or utility player in the big leagues.

“He’s an extremely mature kid,” Doyle said. “He is a very hard worker. He’s all business in the gym. I think Malakhi has all the building blocks to succeed as a professional person at the big league level, and that’s gonna complement the tools really, really well.

“He has the potential to be an All-Star center fielder if the bat reaches its ceiling, because he’s certainly got the tools defensively and on the base paths to provide immense value to whoever selects him.”

Currently, Knight is playing collegiate summer ball for the Bellingham Bells of the West Coast League. He said he’s focusing on fine-tuning his swing and being more aggressive, both in the batter’s box and the field.

“My ultimate goal is to make the big leagues some day,” he said. “I think that’s every kid’s dream (who grows) up playing baseball. … But it’s obviously gonna be a long process. It’s gonna be like a lot of hard work, a lot of failure and stuff like that. But I’m ready for it.”

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