Cardinals call up Carson Kelly as Grichuk and Duke are activated

The St. Louis Cardinals have called called up catcher Carson Kelly and activated outfielder Randal Grichuk and left handed reliever Zach Duke off the disabled list. To make room for them, the Cardinals optioned right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala to Memphis, outfielder Magneuris Sierra to Springfield, and designated catcher Eric Fryer for assignment.

Kelly, 23, was hitting .283/.375/.459 with 10 home runs in 68 games with Memphis this season after going homerless in 32 games with Memphis last season. Kelly appeared in 10 games last season for the big league Cardinals and hit .153/.214/.231. It seemed that his promotion may be coming when Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak indicated that his opportunity was coming.

The former gold glove catcher has been viewed as Yadier Molina‘s heir apparent behind the plate, but just how the two will co-exist on the roster is still yet to be determined. When discussing Kelly, Mozeliak indicated that the two would share time. Fryer, Molina’s backup prior to today, had started 15 of the team’s 95 games behind the plate. That would leave Molina on a pace to start 136, the second most in a season in his career.

How much time they split likely will fall back on how well Molina is playing. He finished off June with a 16 game hitting streak, but so far in July is hitting just .259/.293/.370. Those should be achievable numbers for Kelly.

The Cardinals also recalled Zach Duke who they received in a trade last July from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for Charlie Tilson. Duke pitched well to finish out the year, posting a 1.93 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 28 appearances, but had to undergo Tommy John surgery after the season. The club held onto him and he returned to the mound earlier this month. He has thrown 9 scoreless innings and allowed just 4 hits and 1 walk in 9 rehab appearances.

Randal Grichuk is also back with the club and will be starting tonight. Grichuk has struggled to find his groove this season, hitting just .215/.270/.408 with 9 home runs in 61 games. After a nearly month-long stint in the minors, Grichuk returned in late June and batted .196/.250/.500 with 5 home runs in 15 games until he was placed on the disabled list after returning to the club after the All Star break.

Going down will be outfielder Magneuris Sierra, much to the disappointment of fans who enjoy his style. Sierra has gotten good results, batting .365/.400/.365 through his 13 career games over now three cups of coffee in the big leagues, however he still lacks the polish necessary. All 19 of his hits have been singles as he will need to develop more gap power to become a player that can be worth playing for his bat and not just his glove. At 21 though, he has time on his side. He will return to Springfield where he is batting .293/.326/.403 this season.

Also down is right handed reliever Sam Tuivailala, which I think is a shame. In 21 innings of work this season, Tuivailala has a 2.14 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His WHIP ranks third in the bullpen behind John Brebbia (0.77) and Matthew Bowman (1.07). Regardless, Tuivailala could not break into more important innings, going nearly two weeks between his last two outings. Since his last recall, Tuivaila had allowed just 1 earned run over 10 innings of work for a 0.90 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.

And the club may say goodbye to Eric Fryer who has been designated for assignment. Fryer joined the last last season as a catcher for Memphis, but was pushed to the big leagues after injury to Brayan Pena. He would be designated for assignment last summer by the Cardinals as well, being picked up by the Pittsburgh Pirates. His first game with Pittsburgh was against the Cardinals where he went 2-for-4 with 3 RBI and the Twitter hashtag #FryersRemorse was born.

After they released Pena over the winter, the club signed Fryer to serve as Molina’s backup this season. He has started 15 games and appeared in 19 others, batting .155/.277/.197 for the Cardinals.

Kelly among cuts as Cardinals further trim spring roster

The Cardinals announced today that they have optioned catcher Carson Kelly and pitcher Mike Mayers to minor league camp, as well as assigned infielder Patrick Wisdom and outfielder Adolis Garcia. The moves leave 37 players remaining in major league camp including 9 non-roster invitees.

Kelly, 22, is at the center of everyone’s attention these days as the organization nears a potential extension with Yadier Molina. Kelly, the #1 catching prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is considered to be Molina’s eventual replacement with his path to the Majors being complicated by such an extension.

Kelly hit .286/.387/.455 between Springfield and Memphis last season and was 2-for-13 in a brief appearance in St. Louis last September.

With Molina playing for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, Kelly got an opportunity to see more time working with the big league club in spring training. Unfortunately, he struggled at the plate, hitting just .182/.300/.182 over 16 games. He will be the everyday starter in Memphis as he waits for an opportunity behind Molina.

Mayers, 24, got his first opportunity in St. Louis last season as he was called up to make a start for the Cardinals. But over one start and four relief appearances, Mayers was hammered, allowing 16 earned runs over just 5 innings. Otherwise, he pitched well in the minors, posting a 3.19 ERA over 25 starts and 144 innings between Memphis and Springfield.

It was going to be difficult for Mayers to do any worse that he had last season with the big league club, but he rebounded nicely. Over 11 innings of work in 7 apperances, Mayers had a 1.64 ERA on a 1.00 WHIP. He is likely headed for what is shaping up to be a stacked rotation in Memphis.

Wisdom, 25, hit .233/.303/.374 with 5 home runs last season with Memphis in a disappointing season. He had hit 43 home runs over the previous three seasons. He hit .300/.405/.667 with 3 home runs this spring with the big league club. It was an impressive start to a player who should be knocking on the door and is about to get some pressure from behind in the organization. He heads into 2017 as Memphis’ third baseman.

Garcia, 24, was just signed by the Cardinals and has only been in camp and eligible to play in Grapefruit League games for a little over a week now. He went 2-for-13 with a walk and three stolen bases in his brief time with the big league club. He is expected to begin the season in the Memphis outfield.

Column: Who stands to gain from regulars playing in the World Baseball Classic?

The World Baseball Classic kicked off on Monday morning and Seung-hwan Oh‘s Team Korea took on Team Israel. The Cardinals have five players who are expected to be on their Opening Day 25 man roster who are taking part in the series. Yadier Molina (Puerto Rico), Matt Carpenter (USA), Carlos Martinez (Dominican Republic), Brett Cecil (USA), and the aforementioned Oh (Korea) will be taking part, though Carpenter’s recent injury will likely keep him out and bring him back to the Cardinals.

While much of the focus is on those guys being out of camp, it does provide an opportunity for the players left behind to put themselves on the map with extra playing time. So as part of our Preseason UCB Roundtable, I posed the question to see who the bloggers throught was in the best position to take advantage of that extra playing time, whether that is to seal the deal on a role with the big league club or move themselves up the organizational depth chart or put themselves in line for a mid-season promotion.

Carson Kelly. It was a pretty unanimous view that Carson Kelly will benefit the most from Molina being out of camp and playing with Team Puerto Rico. He likely won’t be earning a spot on the big league roster this season, but Molina’s absence, along with that of Alberto Rosario (playing for the Dominican Republic), gives Kelly and Eric Fryer an opportunity to play more often and, for both, become more familiar with the big league pitchers.

“I’d say Carson Kelley, not to try to earn a spot, but just to give confidence that if Molina goes down this season, he can step up and take over the everyday job,” said CardsConclave‘s Daniel Shoptaw. “It’s also a situation where he can strengthen the Cardinals’ position in their discussions with Molina over an extension.”

Kelly is the catalyst of one of the Cardinals’ most difficult decisions in a long time: whether to extend Yadier Molina. A good spring followed up with another good year in Memphis would go along way towards fueling speculation around what the Cardinals intend to do as the year goes forward.

Matt Adams & Jose Martinez. The next most common answer was Matt Adams and Jose Martinez. With Carpenter’s injury, he has withdrawn from the WBC, but he is expected to not play this coming week and will likely take it slow getting back into game action. That still creates an opportunity.

Martinez has played a team high 34 innings at first base this spring, but is most likely battling for the fourth outfield spot with Tommy Pham. Martinez, the 2015 PCL Batting Champ while playing in the Royals’ farm system, is swinging the bat really well. He hit .438 in 12 games after being called up last September and picked up where he left off this spring, going 7-for-18 with 3 home runs over 8 games. There’s a lot of baseball yet to play this March, but he has certainly put the team on notice that he intends to go to St. Louis to open up the season.

Adams on the other hand is in an opposite situation. While still likely a lock for the big league roster thanks to his contract (though worth noting the Cardinals could cut him up to 15 days before the season starts and only pay him the minimum as the Mets did last year with Ruben Tejada), he is coming to camp with a much leaner body and a retooled swing. He started slow, and is just 2-for-17 with a home run this spring. But he will stand to get more playing time as well. And for Adams and his ability to establish a role on this club, getting game at bats with his new swing is important.

The bullpen. Behind Kelly there wasn’t much consensus, but there was a common theme when it came to the pitchers. With Cecil and Oh not in camp there are a number of guys who will likely get those looks, from Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich to Ryan Sherriff and Jordan Schafer.

I’ll be writing about it later, but that battle for the final bullpen spot is going to be interesting to watch as we start getting to the end of camp. Guys like Tuivailala, Socolovich, and Shafer stand to figure into that battle in some fashion.

“I think Sam Tuivailala and Miguel Socolovich should get more looks without Cecil and Oh, which will allow them to make a case for the last bullpen spot,” said Zach Gifford of Redbird Rants and Redbird Daily.

Martinez being out also gives Trevor Rosenthal the opportunity to keep starting and stretch into that multi-inning reliever they seem to want him to be.

“I don’t think he’ll crack the rotation, but it will definitely give him a chance to pitch multiple innings. It’s a role he’s well suited for, and it would be nice for the Cardinals to have someone besides Broxton to pitch the middle innings of close games,” said Redbird Daily‘s Colin Yarborough.

But beyond that, Adam Butler, also of Redbird Daily, thinks that proving himself this spring could help Rosenthal force his way into the discussion if and when a starter goes down. He says, “I don’t see him earning a rotation spot over Wacha. But if he can show that he can control his secondary pitches and they can be effective then he probably puts himself in a spot where he could step in if one of their current five starters gets injured.”

What do you think?

Column: It’s time for the Cardinals to lay out the Molina succession plan

It was during the 2002 World Series that I first heard anything about Yadier Molina. His older brothers Bengie and Jose were catchers for the Anaheim Angels during the series. During the game, FOX broadcasters Joe Buck and Tim McCarver were talking about the Molina brothers who were all catchers and how Bengie and Jose would say, “You think we’re good? Wait until you see our brother.”

At the time, Yadier was just a 19 year old kid who had wrapped up his second season of professional baseball in the Cardinals’ organization. He’d been drafted a year before in the fourth round by the Cardinals and they were definitely onboard with the hype.

The Major League roster and Yadier’s advancement merged perfectly, perhaps exactly to plan, as their incumbent catcher Mike Matheny was a pending free agent. Matheny, a two-time and defending gold glove winner at that point, was widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. But the organization’s plan was clear to anyone with eyes.

Matheny would mentor the youngest Molina for a season before he left in free agency and Molina became the starter in 2005. Matheny would win his third Gold Glove Award in 2004. He would head to San Francisco in free agency and win his fourth Gold Glove Award in 2005, making it his third in a row.

But on the Cardinals, Yadier Molina began to emerge as one of the greatest catchers of his generation, if not Major League Baseball history. A four-time Platinum Glove Award winner, eight-time Gold Glove winner, seven-time All Star, MVP Candidate, Silver Slugger, you name it. If they award it to a catcher, Molina’s probably won it.

Next season will mark Molina’s 13th as the Cardinals’ starting catcher. He will turn 35 this year in what could be his final season with the team. There is a $15 million mutual option for a 14th season next year that, if Molina has his way, will turn into an extension.

Over his years in St. Louis, because he has been so good, that what I like to call the “cult of Molina” has developed.

After the Cardinals traded Joe Kelly to Boston in 2014, he talked about how there were a number of things he had to learn how to do in Boston because he never learned to do it in St. Louis. Yadi handled it. Reading batters, strategizing at bats, and holding base runners isn’t something pitchers have had to deal with because Yadi’s handled all of that.

I think we see struggles with guys stealing bases now because Cardinals pitchers have never worried about holding guys on and now that his skills have diminished in that area, throwing out just 21% of base runners last year from a career average of 42%, runners can take advantage.

You don’t shake Molina either. Kyle Lohse has spoken about shaking Molina off just a few times and allowing a hit each time. But on the other hand, Marc Rzepczynski was never comfortable with the culture in St. Louis that you don’t shake Molina off and he has pitched better since leaving.

I’m not saying that other catchers don’t put in the preparation, but in many ways Molina is a rare combination of talent, skill, work ethic, and preparation. And as Molina’s career approaches its close though, it’s time to lay out the post-Molina road map.

Last winter the Cardinals signed Brayan Pena in the hopes that he would be the guy who could finally allow the team to give Molina more rest and hopefully extend his career. That didn’t happen as Pena injured his knee slipping on a wet dugout step in spring training and Molina logged more innings behind the plate than ever before.

The Cardinals released Pena a few weeks ago in a roster squeeze which left Carson Kelly as the only catcher on the 40 man roster. John Mozeliak indicated during the winter meetings that they’d like to bring in a veteran backup for Molina this year so that Kelly can continue to develop by playing everyday.

But with Kelly on the cusp, the organization has reached a tipping point. You can only hold off Kelly for so long.

If the organization feels like Kelly is Molina’s future replacement, then they need to lay out the road map for Kelly’s transition to the starting role. Perhaps that’s Kelly serving as Molina’s backup in 2018 before Kelly steps into the starters role in 2019, much like Matheny and Molina’s transition in 2004. But Molina would need to know that he wouldn’t have a role on the team for 2019.

I know what you’re thinking. Molina is the face of the franchise. He’s the rock of the pitching staff. Of anyone, he has to retire a Cardinal.

That’s the reaction I always get when I bring this topic up. Eventually the transition to Molina’s successor will have to happen and we’re at the point where once you identify that successor, you need to move on when the new guy is ready. The organization has built their philosophy on not holding up the future for the sake of sentimentality. I love Molina, but the organization can’t afford to string Kelly along as his backup for multiple years like they did with Tony Cruz.

“Yeah, but Cruz was never a good hitter,” is the reaction I usually get when I bright this up. I’ll admit that he wasn’t great, but he wasn’t horrible either. Cruz hit .282 across three levels of the minors in 2010 and would be hitting .262 in Memphis when he got his first call up to the Majors in 2011. He hit .262 over 38 games in the Majors in 2011 and then followed it up, hitting .254 in 2012. But over his final three seasons with the Cardinals, from 2013 to 2015, his batting average collapsed to just .203.

In my opinion, a big factor in Cruz’s declining performance was playing time. Pitchers were able to get ahead of him and stay ahead of him because he wasn’t getting enough opportunities to learn and adapt at the plate. Whenever he did get a stretch of playing time while Molina was injured, he would usually string together a few excellent games at the plate, perhaps giving a glimpse at what he could have been.

Because of this, ensuring that Kelly gets consistent playing time and doesn’t waste away for too long as a backup is of utmost importance to the future of the Cardinals. If they wait too long, will we see the same struggles that Tony Cruz had?

If Kelly isn’t viewed the successor, then the organization should put him to use. Use him as trade bait or use him as the backup now. The only reason to delay him at this point is to time up the hand off. But that requires actually handing the job off at some point. It’s time to figure out exactly when.