With Yadier Molina returning to the St. Louis Cardinals, and looking like his usual self in Spring Training, the Cardinals once again need to make a decision about who will be his backup. Essentially, this means that the Cardinals need to decide if they want to give Andrew Knizner regular playing time in Triple-A, or if they want him to serve as Molina’s understudy on the MLB roster. If Knizner is returned to Triple-A Memphis, then the more defensively minded Tyler Heineman will likely serve as the backup while Ali Sanchez spends the year in Memphis.
Given the Cardinals current catching depth, Andrew Knizner should serve as the backup in St. Louis. To begin with, this would allow the 24-year-old Ali Sanchez the ability to be an everyday catcher in Triple-A. Additionally, it would also free Ivan Herrera to not be blocked in Triple-A if he proves that he is ready for the level. Keeping Knizner at the MLB level would allow the Cardinals to figure out what they have in Sanchez, while also not blocking their top catching prospect from the Triple-A level.
Knizner should also be kept at the MLB level because he can serve directly as an understudy to Yadier Molina and learn how to become a better defensive catcher.
Andrew Knizner has always been a strong offensive catcher, but his defensive abilities have held him back. This makes some sense as Knizner played third base as a freshman in college before moving behind the plate as a sophomore. Thus, he has not had as much time at the position as most catchers, and the catcher position, in particular, is filled with plenty of intricacies. Therefore, by allowing Kninzer to serve as the Cardinals’ backup catcher, the Cardinals will allow Kninzer to benefit from the tutelage of one of the greatest defensive catchers in history, and the MLB coaching staff.
It is clearly important for players to gets reps. This is why the sending Kinizer to Triple-A can be such an appealing option, because there he would be able to get the lion’s share of playing time in order to work on his defensive skills. However, he first reached Memphis in 2018, before spending most of the 2019 season there as well. Then, after spending the 2020 season in St. Louis and the alternate site, he has spent plenty of time at the upper levels of the organization. Additionally, he recently turned 26 years old. Thus, it is time for the Cardinals to give him a chance to prove that he can be a starting catcher in St. Louis.
He cannot do this in Memphis, but he can do this by making occasional starts in St. Louis. However, he must be given playing time if he is going to be in St. Louis. This means that he cannot be treated like Matt Wieters and Francisco Pena who hardly played as Molina’s backup. Instead, he should serve as an offensive complement to Yadi who gets to start at least one game per week at a minimum.
Molina is still a solid catcher, but he is 38 years old. The Cardinals need to take steps to both preserve his body and prepare for the future at catcher. Thus, allowing Knizner to serve as Molina’s backup will allow the Cardinals to do both. The team will receive better offensive production from Knizner than from Heineman, while Kninzer will also be able to develop defensively by learning from Molina. This will be much better in both the short and the long term for the Cardinals, whereas letting Heineman serve as the backup will give the Cardinals worse production while also preventing Knizner’s development.