David Fry was promoted to the Guardians to mash lefties and chew bubble gum — and he’s all out of bubble gum.
In a continued effort to find some utility in the final position player spot on their 26-man roster, the Guardians yesterday designated Meibrys Viloria for David Fry, a right-handed hitting, 27-year-old first baseman/third baseman/emergency catcher.
The Guardians acquired Fry on March 13, 2022, as part of the return for sending the Milwaukee Brewers right-handed pitcher J.C. Meija. Fry was most recently ranked 37th in the Brewers’ system by FanGraphs in 2021 and 44th in the Guardians’ system in 2022. His primary value is in his bat, with the hope that he could play first base, third base, and/or catcher well enough to stick as a bench player. Looks like the Guardians have decided it’s time to see if that’s a possibility.
In 2023, Fry has a 121 wRC+ at Columbus, which includes a .880 OPS against left-handed pitching. He hit lefties at an .813 OPS clip in 2022 and a .988 clip in 2021, so it seems like he has a legitimate chance to help against southpaws. Cleveland has the 24th-worst offense in 2023 against lefties at 79 wRC+, following 2022 where they ranked 27th with an 84 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. Josh Naylor, in particular, has struggled against lefties for his entire career with a 53 wRC+ against them in 300 plate appearances.
A simple upgrade for the Guardians should involve starting Fry against left-handed pitching, and/or bringing him against tough lefty relievers for Naylor late in games. This is a role Fry fits far better than Viloria, who was a lefty who couldn’t hit much, period, or Gabriel Arias, who has struggled to hit major league pitching and never demonstrated any tendency to be a lefty mashy in the minors.
Fry played catcher fairly regularly for the Clippers last season but he has not appeared in a game for the Clippers as a backstop yet this season. The team has prioritized getting Zack Collins the at-bats there as a backup for Bo Naylor over Fry, perhaps indicating their assessment of Fry’s catching skills. However, what Fry can do is provide emergency catcher security for Terry Francona.
If Francona wants to pinch-hit for Cam Gallagher late in a game, he does not have to go to his last remaining catcher, Mike Zunino, without their being someone who owns a set of pads and mask and generally knows how to put a glove on a major-league breaking pitch. Personally, I’d also like to see Francona put Cam Gallagher in for the ninth innings to catch Emmanuel Clase’s pitches in the dirt; perhaps Fry’s presence also makes that more of a likely scenario.
I wouldn’t expect to see Fry at third except in an emergency scenario because his glove has not looked good over there in Triple-A. I think he is a first baseman, a DH, and an emergency catcher who is here to hit the baseball hard. And, hit the baseball hard he does.
If you glance through the Clipper’s games on Baseball Savant, you will rarely find a game where Fry has not hit a baseball over 100 mph. He’s third on the Columbus Clippers among players with at least 50 plate appearances with a .478 slugging percentage, behind Zack Collins and Tyler Freeman (!??!). He also exhibits some plate discipline, however, with the fourth lowest swinging strike percentage on the team at 9.2% (behind Freeman, Richie Palacios, and Bo Naylor), to go along with a career minor league K/BB% of 19.9/9.3.
I’m excited to see the Guardians make a move to get some more thump on a punchless roster. I’m also thrilled to see a player like Fry who has toiled in the minors for a fairly long time get his shot at proving he belongs in the big leagues. Here’s hoping to see more of the dingers like Fry hit late in spring training this March helping the Guardians to shake out of an early-season offensive funk.