Knizner, 29 in February, will join a new organization for the first time in his career. He was drafted by the Cardinals in 2016 and was with that club until he was non-tendered in November of 2023. On his way up the minor league ladder, he was considered a bat-first catcher with questions about whether his defense would be good enough.
He got brief looks in the majors in each of the past five seasons but didn’t get significant playing time as the Cardinals employed Yadier Molina as their primary backstop until he retired, then signed Willson Contreras to replace him. His bat didn’t impress much at the big league level in the 2019 to 2022 period but he showed a bit of promise last year. He hit 10 home runs in 241 plate appearances but his 5% walk rate and 25.7% strikeout rate were both a bit worse than average. His .241/.288/.424 batting line translated to a wRC+ of 92, which is 8% below league average overall but about par for a catcher.
But his glovework hasn’t been strong, as was suggested by prospect evaluators over the years. He has a career tally of -18 Defensive Runs Saved and is considered a poor framer by each of FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus and Statcast. He’s considered a decent blocker by Statcast but his work with the throwing game is considered subpar.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected him for a modest salary of $2MM this year but the Cards decided to cut him loose. They have Contreras in the starting role behind the plate and Iván Herrera on hand to handle the backup duties.
The Rangers have given Knizner a salary that comes in just beneath that projection. They have Jonah Heim as their primary catcher but lost their bat-first backup when Mitch Garver reached free agency and signed with the Mariners. They also have Sam Huff on the 40-man roster but both he and Knizner still have an option year remaining, which will allow the club to keep one of them in the minors as depth.
Knizner has four years and 21 days of service time, meaning he can be retained for 2025 via arbitration if he has a good season and the Rangers want to keep him around. A lengthy option assignment could even extend their club control by another year. His major league hitting hasn’t been overwhelming thus far but he has hit .303/.369/.461 in his minor league career. He was also a late conversion to catching in college and could perhaps still be developing his skills as a defender.