Cleveland Guardians news: Who will be the backup catcher in 2023?

Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees
Cleveland Guardians v New York Yankees / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

The Cleveland Guardians don't have too many glaring roster questions - with the exception of catcher. And you may be asking yourself why you should care about the backup backstop roster decision, and furthermore, what kind of sick, depraved individual spends any substantial amount of time thinking about such things?

Well, this author does. And admittedly, the list of possible backup catcher candidates is probably quite short, but it's something we shouldn't just take for granted.

Mike Zunino is expected to be the primary starter, but that's following a 2022 season in which he only appeared in 36 games due to injury. Beyond Zunino, things get dicey.

For the purpose of this exercise, let's say Zunino bounces back and starts the majority of games; he's likely only going to start 90 games or so. Last season, there were only six catchers who started more than 100 games: J.T. Realmuto (130), Sean Murphy (116), Martin Maldonado (110), Will Smith (106), Jacob Stallings (103), and Jonah Heim (102).

I'll also say this; Bo Naylor should probably see a few more weeks in Columbus before getting called back up. Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria seem like very underwhelming possibilities. Then you have David Fry and Bryan Lavastida, both of whom have been in the system for a second and may be the most interesting candidates to fill that bench role.

Fry, acquired from Milwaukee in exchange for J.C. Mejia, offers something that none of the other aforementioned can provide: positional flexibility. During his minor-league tenure, he has seen time at each spot on the diamond, with the noticeable absence of pitcher, though in fairness he's primarily been regulated to first base, third, and catcher. And if you have paid any attention, you know Terry Francona loves that out of his bench bunch. Fry has been spending less time at catcher, but did participate in the Arizona Fall League and saw the bulk of his time behind the dish, and may be a sign of things to come for the 27-year-old.

Lavastida made his MLB debut in 2022, but really struggled all season. Some have even speculated that if Lavastida doesn't make the Opening Day roster he could begin the season in Double-A Akron, just to ensure he gets everyday reps. His prior track record would indicate that the jump to the majors may have been a tad too much, but he'll play the 2023 season at 24 years old, so his future is far from finished.

It's also worth noting that Fry would have to be added to the 40-man roster, while Lavastida is currently on it. But all things considered, don't be surprised if one of these two winds up getting the nod as Zunino's primary backup come March 30th.

There's one last scenario that I'd be remiss if I didn't mention, and that's the one where Bo Naylor impresses during spring training and breaks camp with the big-league club. If I had to put odds on it, though, I'd say there's about a 5% chance of that happening. Not because I don't believe in Naylor; it goes back to how the team handles its young players, especially those who are considered top prospects.

Steven Kwan last season was an absolute outlier; Francona just doesn't include the young guys out of camp. Instead, I see Naylor heading to Columbus to appear in 30-40 games and ultimately gets the call up come mid-to-late May. He's only appeared in 66 games to date in Triple-A with 290 plate appearances. Not to mention, upon his arrival in Cleveland, he'd probably occupy a bench role, at least to start.

Things could of course go completely off the rails and I may be 1,000% wrong on all of this, but Guardians fans clamoring for Bo Naylor to start the season with the club may want to take a beat and get used to hearing Lavastida's or Fry's name (yes, I'm largely writing off Gallagher and Viloria ).