A backup catcher competition has emerged for the St. Louis Cardinals this spring.
According to a tweet from Cardinals beat writer John Denton, pitchers and the coaching staff have complimented Barrera's work behind the plate, and manager Oliver Marmol proclaimed that the backup catcher spot is up for grabs.
A sixth-round pick by the Washington Nationals in 2016, Barrera debuted with them in 2019. In parts of three seasons with the Nationals, Barrera hit .231 with two home runs. Defensively, Barrera is two runs below average in defensive runs saved, and in the brand-new catcher blocks statistic, Barrera is two blocks above average in his career.
Knizner, the Cardinals' incumbent backup, is 15 runs below average defensively in his career, and he has a career batting average of .204. With two full seasons spent as the backup catcher, Knizner has failed to impress at the plate and behind it. He has one minor league option remaining, and the Cardinals may want to utilize it.
The backup catcher job will likely be more important than in years past, where Yadier Molina routinely led the major leagues in games caught. The Cardinals have touted several "catchers of the future" during Molina's long tenure with the team, notably Carson Kelly, who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Ivan Herrera.
Regarding Herrera, the Cardinals seem to have moved on from him, as evidenced by the signing of Barrera and the lack of discussion about him from the organization. Herrera has only 22 plate appearances in the major leagues, and the Cardinals appear reluctant to give him more than a cup of coffee. He is just 22, though, so time is still on his side to carve out a career, whether it be with the Cardinals or elsewhere.
Although Knizner and Barrera are both 28, Knizner has substantially more experience, with 391 more plate appearances than Barrera in the major leagues. While a Knizner breakout isn't impossible if he's given substantial playing time, he has scuffled in Spring Training to this point, going 1 for 12 through March 7. Optioning Knizner to Memphis and seeing if Barrera can run with the backup role might be the Cardinals' best move.
The competition for outfield spots has received more attention to this point, but fans shouldn't overlook the backup catcher battle. Barrera could blossom in a new uniform if he's given ample playing time, and the Cardinals could have a strong reserve behind the plate for the next several years.