Signing of Willson Contreras hasn’t changed focus or goals for Cardinals backup catcher Andrew Knizner; plus John Mozeliak interview

By Rob Rains

When John Mozeliak made it clear at the start of the off-season that the Cardinals’ biggest priority was to sign a catcher to replace the retiring Yadier Molina, one of the people listening was Andrew Knizner.

He did not take it personally.

“If you look at the roster matrix, we needed another catcher,” Knizner said on Saturday, when he was one of several players to take his turn signing autographs on day one of the Winter Warm-up, back for the first time since 2020.

“Whatever free agent was on the market, we had to sign another catcher so I don’t take that personal at all,” Knizner said. “What the organization does is out of my control. All I can do is show up, be prepared, work hard and put myself in the best position to play good and obviously to help the team win.”

The addition of Willson Contreras, signed to a five-year contract, has not changed Knizner’s focus.

“Everybody is excited to have Willson join the team,” Knizner said. “He’s a winning player and I think he is going to help us win a lot of games this year.

“My main focus is internal and what I can do to get better and help this team win. That’s always been my number one focus.

“My number one thing is preparation because that’s one thing I can control. You can’t always control your performance on the field. You hope that you play well and you train and prepare to play well but the number one thing for me has always been preparation and showing up every day being able to compete to win games.”

Knizner, who turns 28 on Feb. 3, was reminded again last year about how a player can be as prepared as possible and still not have the success that he hoped to have.

After serving as Molina’s backup for the last three years, Knizner could have put himself in line to take over the starter’s role this season, but a disappointing offensive performance in 2022 likely kept him from getting that chance.

Knizner hit just .215 for the year with four homers and 25 RBIs in 260 at-bats.

He believes he is a better hitter than that – and intends to show it this season.

“The biggest change I made last year was getting back to who I am as a hitter, really understanding my identity,” he said. “That’s something that is tough to do when you’re not playing every day. You want to go in there and just do too much.

“When I was able to step back and say ‘I’m a good hitter, I’m going to take my solid line drive approach and just try to hit the ball hard’- taking that to the offseason really is about just trusting who I am as a hitter.”

Knizner lives in Jupiter, Fla., and already has been training at the Cardinals’ complex, working in a hitting group with Paul DeJong and Brendan Donovan.

“The great thing about baseball is you can never master this game and theres always something you can get better at,” Knizner said.

One thing about Knizner that won’t change this season is his number.

After offering number seven to Matt Holliday when Holliday was hired as the bench coach in November, Knizner got it back this week when Holliday resigned the job.

“He’s the Cardinal Hall of Famer,” Knizner said. “From what I heard he said he didn’t care what number he had, so I probably was going to keep it anyway. I had some other numbers submitted but I don’t think I will have about that now.”

Other news and notes from day one of the Warm-up:

* Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said he found out last Saturday that Holliday was resigning as the team’s bench coach, deciding he didn’t want to spend all the time away from his family in Oklahoma.

The timing was “not ideal” but Mozeliak was happy the Cardinals were able to hire Joe McEwing to fill the position. McEwing had been coaching for the White Sox but was not retained after Tony La Russa resigned as the team’s manager.

* The Cardinals were not able to reach agreements with two players eligible for arbitration, Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos, but did get deals done with their seven other eligible players, including Jack Flaherty, Tyler O’Neill and Tommy Edman.

* The Cardinals will be without at least eight players during a chunk of spring training because of the World Baseball Classic but Contreras apparently will be in camp the whole time, turning down a spot on the Venezuelan teram.

Contreras wants to use that time to work with the pitchers he will be catching for the first time.  “That was part of his desire to stay,” Mozeliak said.

Already committed to play in the WBC are Adam Wainwright, Mikes Mikolas, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, for the United States; Lars Nootbaar for Japan; Edman for South Korea; Gallegos for Mexico, and O’Neill on the Canadian team.

Mozeliak said the absence of all those players from camp will provide more of an opportunity for playig time for some of the team’s prospects.

* Among the players schedulerd to appear at the Warm-up on Sunday are Wainwright, Arenado, Goldschmidt, Nootbaar, Dylan Carlson and Donovan, as well as manager Oli Marmol.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

John Mozeliak talking to the media on day 1 of the Winter Warm-Up

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For the latest news and features in St. Louis Sports check out STLSportsPage.com. Rob Rains, Editor.