The Yankees second round draft pick last season, J.R. Murphy left extended spring training and played tonight for the Low A Charleston RiverDogs.
The RiverDogs were playing in Rome, GA against the Low A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves.
The 6'0", 190 lb Murphy was the designated hitter and ended up 1-3, with a double, RBI and struck out twice.
While drafted as a catcher, and currently part of the long pecking order of highly-rated Yankees catching prospects, I feel Murphy's greatest value to the team is likely as a rightfielder.
Why? Well, despite a great throwing arm, Murphy's biggest baseball asset is his offense, specifically the ability to consistently hit the ball hard. He also has what Baseball America ranked as the "second best strike zone awareness" of all high school draft picks last season.
Murphy played high school baseball at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, where he burst on the scene with a stellar senior season. He led his team in virtually every statistical category.
I have not yet seen Murphy, but will be planning a trip very soon to witness a few of his games. According to a variety of scouting reports, Murphy has excellent strike zone and pitch recognition, which are the keys to hitting at higher levels.
The ability to recognize pitches, like off speed pitches moving out of the zone is extremely key to getting into good hitting counts. Then getting and attacking good hittable pitches is the key to producing runs.
Murphy is extremely patient as well, working deep into counts and selectively picking pitches he can drive. According to the reports, he uses the whole field, taking all types of pitches the other way. His compact and short swing lets the ball travel deep in the zone where his quickness can turn on a good inside fastball.
As a young hitter gets to higher levels and the fastballs become more precise, many players have a tough time catching up with the good, accurate heat. Murphy appears to be very good at making good contact on this pitch.
He is a gap to gap hitter right now, probably more of a doubles guy than a true home run threat. But all hitters are not created equal. While Jesus Montero at the same age was pounding home runs in large amounts, Murphy still has time to grow and will eventually hit home runs.
Murphy was an outfielder before being converted to catcher due to his really strong throwing arm. However, during his first taste of professional baseball, Murphy was used by the Yankees primarily at DH for several reasons.
First, the Yankees have a pretty good group of young catching prospects with Montero, Austin Romine, 2009 international signee Gary Sanchez plus 2008 draft pick Kyle Higashioka. They do not need to rush Murphy up the catching ladder.
In addition, a young guy in the Bronx named Francisco Cervelli has done pretty well thus far in his major league career.
Second, Murphy missed all of his junior year in high school due to knee surgery and the Yankees are probably wanting to take some wear and tear off the knees.
Third, I really do not believe Murphy is destined to be a catcher. Besides the strong arm, he has below average skills in blocking balls and knowing the nuances of the position.
The Yankees are so loaded at catcher with Cervelli, Romine (the real next decade guy), Montero and Sanchez that Murphy's bat will eventually land in right field.
Some people are saying it would be wise to keep Murphy behind the plate to enhance his value. Value for what, a trade? His value is in the bat he swings, not the position he plays. If you need value for a trade, why sign him to double slot money?
Murphy is wisely being introduced to the pro game very slowly, allowing him to concentrate on the one aspect he knows very well—hitting.
The Yankees will watch closely how Muphy's hitting tools of plate discipline and pitch recognition translate to a full (almost full for JR) season against better competition.