When Yadier Molina went on the disabled list after his unfortunate incident with Kris Bryant and a 101 MPH fastball the time had come for the world to see what prize prospect Carson Kelly was going to bring to the table. For the Memphis Redbirds, the 23-year-old Kelly was slashing .234/.337/.364 with four doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBIs in 21 games. Kelly is the team’s top catching prospect and is rated third overall by MLB.com behind right-handed hurlers Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty. Kelly’s familiarity with the young pitching staff was thought to be an easy transition. As the Cardinals enter June they have yet again seen another set back at the catching position. Kelly has been placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury which has forced the Cardinals to rely on the next man up, Francisco Pena.
Son of former Major League All-Star Tony Pena, Francisco will now be called upon to take over the role as primary catcher until Molina is able to return. Pena was signed from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason to serve as backup, allowing Carson Kelly to continue to get consistent at bats in the minors. He will now be asked to keep the Cardinals afloat for the next three weeks (hopefully). The Cardinals currently sit one game out of the NL Central. Even with the injuries they should still be looking to contend if they can do these three things.
1.) Young arms must prove they are ready at the Major League Level
The Cardinals rank #4 in team pitching ERA despite the loss of veteran Adam Wainwright and ace Carlos Martinez. Miles Mikolas has been everything the Cardinals could have asked for from a preseason #4 starter leading the team in wins (5), innings (51.1) and first among starters in WHIP (1.05). Adam Wainwright has been moved to the 60-day DL which means that Jack Flaherty will finally be a member of the rotation without the worry of one bad inning means he is headed back to Memphis. Flaherty has shown that he has major league stuff after his first two stars. It will be up to the the youth to guide them through the first half of the season. The youngster will have to trust Pena.
2.) Defensive consistency behind the plate
Pena has been used primarily as defense-first organization depth for more than a decade, with the Mets, Royals and Orioles. He is not fleet of foot and has struggled to hit consistently over 11 Minor League seasons. But he brings a strong arm, good receiving skills and fundamentals in spades. The Cards tracked several of Pena’s throws to second this spring in the 1.80-second range, which is considered an elite pop time.
Replacing a multi time gold glover behind the plate is nearly impossible but Pena will give the Cardinals a serviceable replacement for the time being.
3.) Struggling bats will have to step up
Yadier Molina’s offensive output has been great during the 2018 season. His 6 HR 17 RBI’s have helped pick up the slack of struggling mainstays in the lineup. Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have to pick up their production. They are the veterans of this team that have the track records. Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez have been great for the Cardinals but it is time for the guys that were projected to be at the top of the order to play to their potential. If they don’t Matheny cannot wait for them to come around. Tyler O’Neal is ready to come up and make an impact. If the Cardinals are relying on Francisco Pena to help the offense they are going to have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.
The Cardinals made the right decision leaving prospect Andrew Knizner in the minors. They must allow him to continue to develop his defensive skills. If they did bring him up and it didn’t go well you can burn what could be a future asset to the club. Going with Pena is the only option for the Cardinals, it is up to the rest of the team to get them through these weeks with out their leader.