Eric Fryer is too good of a hitter to keep out of the lineup, even if he is technically considered a backup.
Fryer may be the Curve's second-string catcher, but his numbers across the board have been better than starter Tony Sanchez's this season. Sanchez, of course, is a prized prospect and former first-round draft pick, but Fryer is proof that guys who aren't necessarily considered prospects still can be big-time contributors.
"He's a valuable asset," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said.
Fryer entered play Saturday leading the Curve and ranking sixth in the Eastern League with a .333 batting average, which rose to .348 as he went 3-for-4 with his fifth homer and 16th RBI against Binghamton. He's also tops on the club in on-base percentage (.421) and slugging (.500), so of course his OPS (.921) leads the team, as well.
The term that's widely used is professional hitter, and Fryer is definitely that.
At 25, he's a bit old for a Double-A rookie. Still, Fryer looks as comfortable at the plate as any member of the Curve, and there's no reason to believe he can't work himself into being a major league prospect.
He's on the same career path as Sanchez - who will get every opportunity to succeed - so Fryer's chances of reaching the big leagues will have to be as a utility player.
He has started 14 games at catcher and 15 in the outfield, plus he's the designated hitter whenever possible to keep his bat in the lineup.
Forbes said Fryer would start at catcher for most teams in the Eastern League.
"He can block, he can throw and he understands how to call a game," the manager said. "He executes the game plan really well."
But he also has a teammate who was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft.
"You can call it competition if you want to, but in reality we push each other," Fryer said of his relationship with Sanchez. "We try to make each other better. We work, we block with each other, we receive."
Sanchez is off to a solid start at the plate, hitting .281 with 16 RBIs and a .387 on-base percentage, but has committed eight errors in 38 games. He will have to shore things up defensively to reach his potential.
The Curve actually have three good catchers, with Kris Watts also in the mix. He's hitting .271 with a .394 on-base percentage.
"We push each other in all aspects of the game," Fryer said of the three catchers. "If one guy's doing well, then the other guy wants to do just as well. We're all competitors here, we all want to play well, and I think that's the name of the game is to push each other and be the best team possible."
Fryer may face long odds of ever being the Pirates' everyday catcher, but his bat and versatility can lead to a big league career.
"He can do different things - go behind the plate, go out in right field - and as he goes we'll probably expand his versatility even more," Forbes said.
Fryer, a 10th round pick of the Brewers in 2007, came to the Pirate organization from the Yankees in a 2009 trade for Eric Hinske. A .283 career hitter, he was Sanchez's backup last year at Single-A Bradenton before taking over the starting catching job when Sanchez got hit in the face by a ball and missed the second half of the season.
Fryer, too, got hit in the face a week after Sanchez and missed most of July. He turned it on at the plate when he came back and finished with a .300 average, eight homers, 48 RBIs, a .391 on-base percentage and .865 OPS.
This guy can clearly hit, and if he keeps it up, the Pirates will have to take notice of him.
It's great to see top draft picks like Sanchez enjoy success and live up to their potential. But it's even better seeing players who weren't drafted high develop themselves into big league players.
Fryer is well on his way to doing just that.
Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.