He has already experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows during parts of five seasons with the Yankees, and now Francisco Cervelli has worked his way to the front-runner position for the starting catching job with the team.
In 2009, his first season with significant time spent at the major league level, a 23-year-old Cervelli hit .298 while appearing in 42 games for the Bombers. The highlights of that season included catching a shutout in his first start and impressing the organization and fans with his hustle and exuberance during the Yankees' run to a World Series championship.
It appeared that the catcher had a promising future with the club, and his playing time increased in 2010 (93 games played).
Unfortunately, the results of that season were significantly worse than the previous campaign's. At the plate, his average was still a decent .271, but behind it, Cervelli's play suffered. In 2009, he had thrown out 43 percent of runners attempting to steal (10 out of 23), but in 2010, that number dropped to 14 percent (just nine of 64 runners).
Things were no better in 2011, as his caught-stealing percentage remained at 14, while his batting average dropped to .266. That year, the club showed less confidence in the catcher, as he appeared in only 43 games.
Last season, the bottom dropped out.
On the last day of camp, the Yankees told Cervelli that he would be starting the year with their Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre club. Needless to say, the demotion surprised him.
Since then, the backstop has worked on his game with catching instructor Julio Mosquera and played winter ball to remain sharp.
The improvement has been evident this spring, with Cervelli gunning down four of five attempted base stealers. While detractors will point out that spring training is not the same as the regular season, it should be noted that his performance to this point represents the best spring results of Cervelli's career.
Last season with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees catcher threw out 30 percent of runners attempting to swipe bags against him. That percentage was better than both Russell Martin's (24 percent) and defensive specialist Chris Stewart's (23 percent). Cervelli is currently battling with the latter for the starting catching spot on the big league club.
Given that the Yankees must now enter 2013 without Curtis Granderson (who has averaged 36 home runs per season with the Yankees) and Mark Teixeira (34 homers per season with team), the club must now resort to a small-ball style of play to get its runs. That means hit-and-run plays, stolen bases and a station-to-station strategy for an organization that has made its reputation with the long ball.
In the battle for the starting backstop position, the team will now require more than just a defensive specialist. It will need someone capable of providing productive at-bats and adequate base running capabilities.
As Francisco Cervelli continues to work on putting his setbacks in the rearview mirror, it becomes clear that he gives the Yankees their best option at catcher for 2013. He has a .271 batting average at the MLB level, while Stewart's is a paltry .217. On the bases, Cervelli stole six bags last season, and Stewart has only two for his career.
With the situation as it is for the team, New York can ill afford to have a liability at any spot in the order. Cervelli's time has come, and the Yankees must make the most of it.