Class AAA

Knizner catching on, and likely has a future in St. Louis

Andrew Knizner of the Memphis Redbirds is a steady presence in the Cardinals’ system and appears likely to be the catcher to succeed Yadier Molina. (photo by Mike Morrow)

He’s a catcher, and he can hit.

What more needs to be said about the man currently considered the successor to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina? There’s quite a lot to be said about Andrew Knizner, who is grinding it out behind the plate at AAA Memphis.

Knizner (pronounced KIZZ-ner) is ranked the No. 2 prospect in the Cardinals’ organization according the most recent rankings by mlb.com. He trails only third base prospect Nolan Gorman in the Cards’ system.

Knizner is 6-1, weighs 200 pounds and looks the part of a man who can carry the workload of a big-league catcher. His ability seems to be summed up quickly. He hits .300 on a consistent basis in the minor leagues. He is still learning the position, having been converted to catching at North Carolina State after being a third baseman. And the burden of being expected to replace Molina one day comes after the Cardinals traded former catching prospect Carson Kelly to Arizona. Knizner seems to have the right perspective on that status. He once compared replacing Molina to whoever will have to follow Tom Brady as quarterback for the New England Patriots. No one wants that role.

Molina, theoretically, will not play forever. The veteran Cardinal and future Hall of Famer is signed through 2020, and he has said that that would mark the end of his career. No one connected in any way to the Cardinals will want to see Molina ever retire. But while the club has veteran backup catcher Matt Wieters backing up Molina for now, there appears to be consensus that Knizner is the man to watch as the next regular catcher for the big-league club.

Knizner seems to understand he has a lot to learn behind the plate. He’s not especially gifted defensively, but he does appear accurate on his throws. Despite his sturdy frame, he appears more destined to hit for average than hit for power, which makes him a freak of nature in the current climate in baseball, where everyone is expected to hit for power and strike out a lot. So Knizner is a bit of a different story than most, which is somehow refreshing. He also seems well-spoken in interviews. All-around, his no-frills approach seems to fit in with the Cardinals way of going about business.

Mlb.com’s current scouting report on Knizner says, in part, “Knizner has shown a knack for barreling up the baseball as a pro, making lots of hard, line-drive contact to all fields en route to a .310 average in 242 games during his first three seasons. While his aggressive approach results in few walks, he also doesn’t strike out much.”

That’s a straightforward assessment of a solid baseball player.

Knizner currently is batting .295 with four home runs and 15 RBIs for Memphis. He is a mainstay on a Pacific Coast League club that is four games behind the first-place Iowa Cubs in the PCL Northern Division. His pro career has been exclusively in the St. Louis organization, beginning in 2016 as a seventh-round draft pick with the Johnson City Cardinals, where he hit .319.

Knizner just looks the part of a solid player with a future — potentially a long-term future — as a Cardinal. He looks the part of the man who will follow Molina, but he also looks the part of a man who will never be the kind of catcher Molina is. Molina is so deeply knowledgeable about the position he commands a special respect for that. Knizner seems to have that respect for Molina as much as anybody, and he seems to have no illusions that he will be Molina. But that’s already making him a figure of respect in his own right. Knizner will be Knizner, a strong hitter with a lot to learn behind the plate, yet working hard to learn those skills every day.

Knizner is good, and he is steady. And that, ironically, makes him exactly like Molina.

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