Two of the best Division II baseball players in the nation are not only on the same roster, but they live in the same house.

Mount Olive College’s Michael Knox and Carter Capps are roommates and both are turning some heads with their hitting and pitching talents. But just a few years ago both players were planning different paths for their collegiate careers.

Knox, a native of Apex, N.C., started his college career at North Carolina, where he redshirted in his first season. The following fall, Knox injured his knee and decided to concentrate strictly on school and leave behind baseball.

“I took about eight or nine months off before I decided I missed it too much and wanted to give it one more shot,” Knox said. “With all of the NCAA transfer rules, in order to play, I was going to have to go to a Division II school, and Mount Olive was my best option without a doubt.”

Michael Knox
Mount Olive Athletics

A youth coach that had worked with Knox called Mount Olive’s Carl Lancaster, and the 23-year head coach of the Trojans set up a visit for the player.

“He came in for a visit, and there’s never been a finer young man,” Lancaster said. “He just wanted an opportunity. We were certainly glad he got it with us. He put up some crazy numbers last year – he had 24 home runs and 94 RBI – and he hadn’t played in a while.”

Knox batted .378 while playing first base and helped the Trojans win the Conference Carolinas championship.

“I never would have dreamed of having that kind of season for my first collegiate season,” Knox said. “It was a lot of fun to finally play in a college game. I was anxious at first; it was nerve-wracking at the beginning. It was something I never really expected, and it was just nice to be out there playing again.”

Currently, Knox ranks second in the league in batting (.443) and paces the conference with 34 runs scored, 34 RBI, 13 home runs and 31 walks.

“This year, he’s worked really hard getting his body in good shape,” Lancaster said. “The biggest problem he had coming in was his swing was a bit long, but he worked extremely hard with our hitting coach to develop a shorter, compact swing. He’s a threat every time he walks to the plate now. He’s a big, strong kid and has unbelievable power. But, unfortunately, he’s not getting pitched to a lot.”

Knox may not be getting many good pitches to hit, but he is probably happy Capps is not the opposing pitcher.

Three years ago, Capps did not arrive at Mount Olive as a pitcher. He was a catcher, and had been all his life. But Lancaster saw his incredibly strong arm and pitcher-like frame (6-foot5, 220 pounds) and asked Capps to think about changing positions.

“We really felt like a kid with an arm like that and a frame like that there was no telling what the potential could be,” Lancaster said. “When we talked to him about pitching, he wasn’t that fond of it. We convinced him the best thing to do was redshirt a year to give him the opportunity to work on his hitting and throwing some off the mound. In that redshirt season it was very obvious to everyone that he had tremendous potential as a pitcher.”

Before his redshirt season, Capps had thrown about a total of three innings throughout his youth career. Although he was most comfortable behind the plate, he let Lancaster decide what was best.

“I told coach I wanted to pick one or the other because I felt like splitting time was being mediocre at both,” Capps said. “I let him pick which position, and he picked pitching and it’s worked out really well.”

It is working out extremely well for the redshirt sophomore from Kinston, N.C. Capps is 15-0 in his collegiate career, and is coming off pitching the school’s first nine-inning no-hitter on March 12 in Mount Olive’s 4-0 win against Coker. Named the 2011 Baseball America Preseason Division II National Pitcher of the Year, Capps boasts a 1.52 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 41.1 innings pitched.

“It was definitely different throwing the ball rather than telling the pitcher where to throw it,” Capps said. “I know a lot of the intricacies because I’ve watched so many pitchers during my career. I didn’t really have any mechanics when I started, but the staff here has really helped me out. I just had a really good arm, so that helped.”

Last summer, Capps was selected to play in the all-star game of the Coastal Plains League, a collegiate summer league, where he was clocked throwing 96 mph. The right-hander was also named Baseball America’s top Division II prospect for the 2011 MLB Draft.

“[Capps] is so young and has so much to offer with only having pitched the last two years,” Knox said. “He’s got an extremely bright future, and it’s really nice to have a roommate that has the same aspirations as I do – trying to play baseball at the next level.”

Baseball is a common topic in the teammates’ household, and Capps enjoys learning inside information from someone with Knox’ hitting talents.

“I’ll ask him if I throw a slider first pitch what he would be looking for as a really good hitter,” Capps said. “I ask what he would be looking for on the next pitch and what a good location would be to keep him off balance. We really play off each other with that. We talk a lot of baseball and pick each other’s brains.”

The pair also has a friendly, competitive rivalry as pitcher and hitter.

“We’re really, really competitive,” Capps said. “If you ask him, he’ll tell you he’s hit five home runs off me, and if you ask me, I’ll tell you I’ve struck him out five times. I don’t like losing to him because I’m going to have to hear about it at home.”

“We’ve faced each other a few times in intrasquad scrimmages and practice,” Knox said. “We have a lot of fun with that talking junk to each other back and forth in the house. He’s gotten me out a few times and I’ve gotten a few hits off of him. I hit a home run off of him in intrasquad earlier this year, but I don’t know if he’ll tell you that or not. He’s heard plenty about that.”

No. 2 Mount Olive (20-3) heads into a weekend conference series with Pfeiffer as league’s first place team, and Lancaster knows that the roommates – Knox and Capps – have a large part in the Trojans’ success so far.

“Those two boys are just off the charts,” Lancaster said.