In what continues to be a tumultuous season for the St. Louis Cardinals, changes are afoot once again upon the club’s opening of a road series this afternoon against the Cubs.
The Cardinals have recalled top catching prospect Carson Kelly, as well as activated Randal Grichuk and Zach Duke. All three are in Chicago with the team. In corresponding moves, Magneuris Sierra and Sam Tuivailala have been optioned out, with Eric Fryer designated for assignment by the Cardinals for the second year in a row.
Grichuk’s return is the least jarring of the three, as he had been on the St. Louis roster before tweaking his back over the All-Star break. After homering in one rehab game with the Class-AA Springfield Cardinals, Grichuk is evidently healthy enough to return.
Zach Duke’s return has been teased in recent months as the lefty has been recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals’ decision to see him through that recovery instead of clearing him from the 40-man roster over the winter is set to pay off, as Duke brings another veteran lefty presence to the bullpen. After coming over to the Cardinals last year in a trade with the White Sox, Duke pitched 23.1 innings with a 1.93 ERA.
The move with the most long-term implications could be the promotion of Carson Kelly. After months spent honing his craft in Memphis, Kelly is ready for a return to the show.
While many fans have felt this way for some time, the Cardinals hopped on board with the idea Friday, promoting the organization’s top catching prospect to the major league club to serve as the backup backstop to Yadier Molina.
It wasn’t because the Cardinals felt Eric Fryer was a superior No. 2 catcher that Kelly had remained in Class-AAA until late July; the team preferred Kelly to receive regular playing time during a stage in his career where consistent development is crucial to his future success.
During his time in Class-AAA, Kelly displayed the offensive tools that make him such an attractive prospect. While managing the rigors of the starting catcher role for the Memphis Redbirds, Kelly compiled has a .283/.275/.459 batting line through 280 plate appearances in 2017. Kelly has displayed some power with 10 home runs on the season, which currently matches Molina’s power output for the Cardinals on the year.
With the St. Louis club struggling and Kelly producing in Memphis, his addition to the Cardinals makes sense. Fryer had appeared in 34 games as of Kelly’s call up, posting a paltry .155/.277/.197 batting line in 83 plate appearances, equating to an OPS+ of 29, which is 71 percent below league average. It reached the point where the Cardinals are willing to risk losing Fryer
Kelly's presence as the backup above Fryer will almost definitely improve the Cardinals offensive punch on days Molina receives a rest. It’s now up to Mike Matheny to give Yadi those days on occasion, ensuring that can see his development can continue in his new role.