If there’s one theme that has surrounded Eric Fryer’s career, it’s that he’s been blocked at every stage by a top catching prospect. With his promotion to AAA Indianapolis yesterday, he may finally get a chance to prove himself with regular playing time behind the plate.
Fryer was drafted in the 10th round of the 2007 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. Unfortunately for Fryer, the Brewers also drafted a catcher in the third round, Jonathan Lucroy, who is currently their starting catcher in the majors. Fryer was blocked by Lucroy in the rookie leagues in 2007, and again in low-A in 2008. Fryer did catch 39 games in 2008, and was impressive with the bat, hitting for a .335/.407/.506 line in 385 at-bats.
Prior to the 2009 season, Fryer was traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for Chase Wright. Despite the change in scenery, Fryer was again blocked behind the plate. This time he was playing on the same team as Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Montero and Romine were two of the top prospects in the Yankees system, and Montero is now one of the top five prospects in all of baseball. Because of their presence, Fryer only caught five games with the high-A Yankees.
Fryer finally caught a break in late June, 2009, when the Pirates acquired him, along with Casey Erickson, in exchange for Eric Hinske. The Pirates had to pay the remainder of Hinske’s 2009 salary in order to get Fryer and Erickson in the deal. Erickson was released prior to the 2011 season.
Fryer finally got a chance to see some regular playing time at catcher in Lynchburg in 2009. He caught 37 games in the final two months, splitting time with Kris Watts. However, another top catching prospect came along to steal time from Fryer. This time, it was Tony Sanchez, who was drafted in the first round by the Pirates only a few months earlier. Sanchez arrived in Lynchburg in time for the Carolina League playoffs, and assumed the regular catching duties for the remainder of the year.
Fryer had a down year statistically in 2009, combining for a .247/.345/.354 line between the New York and Pittsburgh high-A teams. He returned to high-A in 2010, but so did Tony Sanchez. Fryer spent a lot of time as the designated hitter early in the year, but received additional playing time when Sanchez was hit in the face with a pitch on two separate occasions. The first incident put Sanchez out for a few weeks, while the second incident broke Sanchez’s jaw, putting him out for the season.
Fryer took over as the regular catcher, but the playing time was short lived. He was hit in the face with a pitch, just like Sanchez, and broke his orbital bone, which caused him to miss most of the final two months. Fryer did manage to catch 52 games, and hit for a .300/.391/.474 line in 287 at-bats at the high-A level. By comparison, Tony Sanchez only caught 40 games, and hit for a .314/.416/.454 line in 207 at-bats.
Fryer and Sanchez were both promoted to Altoona to start the 2011 season. Fryer’s hitting has kept him in the lineup, getting time at the corner outfield spots, and time as the designated hitter. He’s seen 16 games behind the plate, which is half as many as Sanchez has caught. Prior to his promotion, Fryer was hitting for a .345/.427/.549 line in 113 at-bats.
The promotion to Indianapolis gives Fryer a great opportunity. Jason Jaramillo is currently on the AAA disabled list, while Dusty Brown just got the call to the majors to serve as Chris Snyder’s backup. The only other catcher on the roster is Wyatt Toregas. That will be the case as long as Ryan Doumit is out, which could be over a month. That means Fryer will get plenty of time behind the plate in AAA.
Fryer is a very athletic catcher, and has strong defensive skills. Scouts I’ve talked to feel that he’s a future major leaguer, maybe not as a starter, but definitely as a strong backup. If he can continue hitting like he has been since the start of the 2010 season, especially in the upper levels, he might emerge as more than that. I don’t expect Fryer in the majors in 2011, outside of a potential September call-up. If he can manage to hit in AAA, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him in the majors in 2012 as a backup, eventually serving as a strong long term backup to Tony Sanchez.