On Thursday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the signing of two players to minor league contracts with invitations to major league spring training camp. The new Cardinals are catcher Eric Fryer and pitcher Juan Gonzalez.
Fryer, 30, had brief appearances in the majors in each of the last five seasons totaling 65 games – with Pittsburgh in 2011-12 and Minnesota in 2013-15. Last month, Fryer was outrighted off the Twins’ 40-man roster at the same time as former Cardinal Shane Robinson and became a free agent afterward.
This season, Fryer appeared in just 15 games with Minnesota, with a slash line of .227/.370/.318/.668. The right-handed hitter struck out 11 times in 27 plate appearances. At Triple-A Rochester, Fryer logged a .293/.367/.360/.727 line with two home runs and 19 RBI in 67 games. From behind the plate, he threw out 44 percent of attempted base stealers (14 of 32).
Fryer and Cardinals manager Mike Matheny are both graduates of Reynoldsburg High School in Ohio, but from there, the two catchers went in opposite directions. Matheny is a Michigan man, while Fryer attended The Ohio State University.
Gonzalez, 25, is a nine-year minor league veteran, having spent his first seven seasons with Colorado before becoming a free agent and moving to the Dodgers system prior to the 2014 season. Originally a starter, the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder was moved to relief three years ago.
In 2015, the Venezuelan split his time between Double-A and Triple-A. At the higher level, he compiled a 2.18 ERA and picked up 12 saves in 14 opportunities over 31 relief outings for Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League. Gonzalez sports a mid-90’s fastball which he used to strike out 51 in 50 innings this season and has decent control (16 walks).
Interestingly, Gonzalez played for the World team in the 2015 MLB All-Star Futures Game at Cincinnati, where he was the oldest player on either roster. In the game, he took care of business, striking out both batters faced.
Having become a minor league free agent following the season, the winter ball veteran is currently pitching for Tiburones de La Guaira in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Brian Walton’s commentary
It is good to see the Cardinals moving more quickly than some years in the past to begin to sign free agents to fill gaps in the upper levels of the minor league system.
The organization having just lost four full-season catchers to minor league free agency plus Cody Stanley’s suspension left Memphis three backstops short and St. Louis with no third catcher with MLB experience. Even with the addition of Fryer, I expect the Cardinals are not done signing talent to backfill the position for 2016.
The system does have one other 40-man roster catcher behind Yadier Molina and Tony Cruz, Michael Ohlman, at Double-A. Ohlman is currently playing in the Arizona Fall League and should report to spring camp to compete for a spot at Triple-A.
Gonzalez’ 2016 role would appear to be right-handed relief depth at Triple-A Memphis, essentially replacing free agent Marcus Hatley. Gonzalez has no major league experience to date.
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