On the Bubble
Eric Fryer, Carson Kelly
Let’s acknowledge the obvious: it’s much more likely than not that Fryer will win this battle. Despite the fact that Fryer is coming to spring training as a non-roster invitee, he can easily be added to the Cardinals’ 40-man roster whenever they place Zach Duke (and possibly Tyler Lyons) on the 60-day disabled list. John Mozeliak explicitly expressed a desire to get Kelly regular playing time this season as his development continues, and with Fryer–a veteran who has previous experience backing up Molina–in the fold, the Cardinals can afford to send Kelly back to Triple-A and have him play five or six times a week.
Despite the fact that he hit like the second coming of Tony Gwynn in two months with the Cardinals last year, posting a .368/.415/.421 slash line through 41 plate appearances, Fryer isn’t likely to provide much value as a hitter behind Molina. He’s got a career OPS of .660 and is more respected for his work behind the plate, so he’s a guy who will probably only give Molina one day off per week at most.
In contrast, Kelly is a guy who could eat into Molina’s playing time if he plays out of his mind during spring training and forces himself onto the roster, or if he gets called up later in the season. The 22-year-old is considered Molina’s eventual successor, and he’s coming off a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. He was also named the top catching prospect in baseball by MLB Pipeline last month.
Even if the fix is in for Fryer, the performance of the two backup catcher candidates will be one of the most interesting storylines to watch this spring, particularly with Molina being away from the team to play for Team Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.