Last year at this time, Francisco Cervelli was working his way back from a severe wrist injury. The young catcher, who has been a highly touted minor league prospect for the last couple of years, turned a lot of heads in spring training in 2008.
He ended up missing most of the season while his broken wrist recovered, and with Jose Molina acting as the steady back up for Jorge Posada, there was no reason for Cervelli to think he wouldn't be with Double-A for the rest of the season.
At the start of 2009, Cervelli was in Double-A. Jorge Posada's surgically repaired shoulder seemed to be responding well, and Jose Molina was taking his turn probably three times a week, leaving no room for Cervelli.
On May 5, Posada was place on the DL with a strained hamstring, and Kevin Cash was called up to back up Molina. However, just two days later, Molina was placed on the DL with a quadriceps injury.
Cervelli got a call that he most definitely wasn't expecting, but had been waiting and hoping for. The Yankees wanted him with the big league club to help while their starting catcher and back up were healing, and Cervelli was more than ready to prove himself.
Cervelli was likable from the start.
He wasted no time getting to know the pitchers on the Yankees' staff so that at a moment's notice they would feel comfortable with each other. While Cervelli has always been known for his stellar defense, his bat had been relatively non-existent in the minors. He came to the majors hitting under .250, but was eager to have hitting instructor Kevin Long fix whatever was effecting his swing.
Cervelli made a seamless transition to the majors. Pitchers like A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Joba Chamberlain couldn't say enough about Cervelli's work behind the plate and his ability to call a good game.
He was even contributing with his bat, something that the Yankees weren't expecting, but were more than happy to take. For a guy who couldn't hit over .250 in Double-A, Cervelli was hitting well over .300, and even higher with runners in scoring position.
Posada returned from the DL in the end of May, while Molina was farther away from making a return. The Yankees decided to keep Cervelli around as Posada's backup, and the backstop is still performing at a high level.
During the second game of the series in Atlanta on Wednesday night, there was talk on the broadcast that Jose Molina was nearing his return from the DL. It is unlikely that the Yankees would want to carry three catchers for the duration of the season, and since Molina is getting paid two million dollars this year, Cervelli would be the likely casualty.
That night, Cervelli hit his first big league home run. As the rookie rounded the bases, his smile and genuine excitement could be seen easily, and that is exactly the type of energy the Yankees want to stay around their team.
Jose Molina is getting closer and closer to making his return, and the Yankees are going to be faced with a tough decision. Do they send Cervelli down and lose all that he's established in his time in the majors, or do they keep him and possibly try and drop Molina?
Molina is a great defensive catcher, and he did great filling in for Jorge Posada for most of last year, but Cervelli is clearly the future catcher in the Yankees' organization.
The Yankees need to find a way to unload Molina and keep Cervelli around the big league club for the long haul. Cervelli has certainly earned his right to stay, and if the Yankees were smart, they would keep him right where he is, and start shopping Jose Molina before the July 31 trade deadline.