Florida State baseball's Brett Knief finds himself in an unfamiliar position

USA TODAY Sports

Coming into the 2014 season, Florida State head coach Mike Martin's biggest concern was finding a way to protect DJ Stewart in the lineup. His answer -- at least thus far -- has been Brett Knief, and it seems to be working.

Fifth year senior Brett Knief has had an interesting college baseball career so far, to say the least.

After spending his freshman year at the University of North Carolina, Knief eventually made the transition to the Seminole State College of Florida where he played center field and hit .389 with 31 runs scored, catching the eye of Mike Martin and Florida State.

The rest is history.

Knief found a home at Florida State, appearing in 41 games during the 2013 season, making an impact anyway he could. But as he walked into the clubhouse on Opening Day, 2014, he found himself put into an unfamiliar role -- the cleanup hitter.

"I hit four in Wiffle ball growing up," Knief said jokingly. "But other than that, I've never hit cleanup. In junior college I hit three, in high school I hit three, but never four. I was just happy to be in the lineup at all when I walked in."

This is just the kind of opportunity the Florida State right fielder has been waiting for.

"My college career has had its ups and downs, for sure,," Knief said. "But being in this position in my last year on a great team is really what I came to college for. It's awesome to see it finally playing out, and I couldn't ask for a better team."

Batting behind DJ Stewart and in front of Jose Brizuela, Knief will more than often find himself at the plate with pitches to hit, and it's important that he comes through for his team. He has done just that through the first four games of the season, hitting .462 with 6 RBI.

Knief likes the challenge, he encourages the competition and looks forward to the opportunities. And those opportunnities will come in abundance, some of which will be unorthodox like Niagara intentionally walking Stewart with two runners on to get to Knief. But he just sees that as motivation.

"I love it," Knief said with a smirk, "I like to battle, I like to fight, and I know they're gonna come after me every time I come to the plate. When I see them walked DJ to load the bases, all I could think was, 'man, these guys really have no respect for me.' They can walk DJ the rest of the season and put me in that position and I would be totally content."

In the end, baseball is a game of instincts, and head coach Mike Martin had a hunch that Knief would be the perfect fit in the cleanup spot to start the season.

"I had it in my mind," Martin said, "I didn't mention it to anybody. I felt like he would be a good choice because he's a tough out. He still needs to gain a little more plate discipline, which I'm seeing. And once things start going really well you'll see a different Brett Knief. We need somebody hitting in that spot that they're scared of."

Knief will have to continue his success at the plate as the Seminoles move towards the "meat" of their schedule. The more productive Knief is at the plate, the more opportunities for DJ Stewart. Just recently, Florida State had an incredibly intimidating one-two-three in Devon Travis, James Ramsey and Jayce Boyd, and it would like to find itself with a similar weapon. And after losing Marcus Davis to the draft, Martin hopes Knief can be that third guy.

If Knief continues to improve and produce, we may see something of the sort. With Gonzalez and Stewart's clear power, Knief just needs get on-base and drive in runs. So far this season he has an on-base percentage of .563 and a slugging percentage of .462.

Consistency and a little more power will go a long way.

Florida State will take on the Georgia Bulldogs this weekend in a three game series, and Rays will have a preview for you.

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