The New York Yankees have a wealth of young catching prospects, and it is going to be very interesting to see what they do with all these backstops this year and over the next four or five years.
Jorge Posada has been the regular Yankee catcher since 1998, but he is now the full time DH.
Despite talk that young stud Jesus Montero would be given a shot at the starting spot in the Bronx, GM Brian Cashman signed Russell Martin to a one-year deal to ensure experience behind the Bombers' plate this year.
However, the Yankees have four young catchers that have to be considered as the best squad of catching prospects for any team in baseball.
In 2009, Posada went down with a leg injury and was followed shortly to the DL by Jose Molina, then the backup in New York.
The catcher who got the call was Francisco Cervelli; Yankee fans will remember what a surprise he was and what a shot in the arm he gave the team as it surged through the summer and went on to capture its 27th World Series championship.
Cervelli was 23 years old and toiling at Double A Trenton when he got the call to come to the Big Apple. It shocked many fans because, at the time, Cervelli was hitting only .190.
But Cervelli delivered some clutch hits, finishing his 42 games in NYC in 2009 with a .298 average. In addition, his work with the pitching staff and his self assurance behind the plate drew rave reviews.
In 2010, Molina was allowed to walk and Cervelli was the backup behind Posada. Cervelli got into 93 games last season and still hit a respectable .271. He was also still very good behind the dish.
Most observers considered Cervelli, now 25 years old, the most likely candidate to spot Martin for the current year. Unfortunately, a broken bone in his foot has sidelined the Cisco Kid, and he will not be ready when the team heads north next week.
But the Yankees have three other young catchers who need watching closely.
The youngest kid—who has no chance of making the big team for the current campaign—is Gary Sanchez. He may be the most exciting prospect for the long-term future of Yankee catchers, however.
Sanchez turned 18 in December. He is 6’2", 195 pounds, and it is an absolute certainty that he will put on more weight as he matures. He has already shown great promise in the low minor leagues for the Yanks.
Last year Sanchez played a total of 47 games in the Rookie Gulf Coast League and for the low A Staten Island Yankees.
He hit .353 in 31 games in the Gulf Coast League and .278 in 16 games at Staten Island. He totaled eight home runs in 173 total at bats for both teams.
Although his catching skills are said to be good, he has too little experience in professional baseball to make a real judgment on his defensive prowess.
The next natural progression for Sanchez would be to head to Charleston in the Sally League for this year’s schedule, but he is such a major prospect that he should rise quickly. Depending on how the Yankees use the other catchers, if Sanchez sets the Sally League on fire, you could see him in Trenton by mid year.
At 22 years old, Austin Romine is 6’1” and 195 pounds. He has three years under his belt in the Yankee minor league system.
Romine was in Charleston at age 19, where he played in 104 games and had 407 official at bats. He hit .300 and slugged 10 home runs. Behind the plate, he threw out 20 percent of base stealers trying to run on him.
At age 20, Romine played in the Florida League and appeared in 118 games. He had 442 at bats and hit .276 with 13 dingers. He threw out 30 percent of the base stealers.
Last season, Romine advanced to Double A Trenton. There he was the regular catcher and saw action in a total of 115 games. He had 455 ABs, hitting .268 with only 10 home runs. And he only threw out 23 percent of those running on him.
One criticism of Romine last year was that he seemed to wear down and did not have endurance as the season went on. That is a subjective measurement, and it is hard to determine if he really got tired and whether it will be a long-term problem.
A few weeks ago, it seemed certain that Romine would likely start in Triple A with the Scranton Yankees. Cervelli had gone down to injury and the other primary backup prospect, Jesus Montero, was blowing everyone away with his defensive improvement in spring training.
However, Montero seems to have taken a step back, and there is a good deal of talk about Romine heading to NYC with the team while Montero goes to Scranton for more seasoning.
Montero is the most talked about and highest-rated prospect among young Yankee catchers.
Although Jesus just turned 21 in November, he has more minor league experience than the older Romine.
Montero first appeared in the Yankee system when he was only 17 in the Gulf Coast Rookie League. He appeared in 33 games his first year and hit .280 with three home runs in 107 at bats.
For his second season, and still only 18, Montero went to Charleston. He played in 132 games, had 529 at bats, hit .326 and smacked 17 homers. He threw out 25 percent of base stealers.
At age 19, Montero split time between Tampa and Trenton. At the AA Level in Trenton he played in 44 games, hit .317 and banged nine home runs in 180 at bats. He threw out 32 percent of those attempting to steal.
Last season, Montero spent the entire year at the Triple A level in Scranton. He was the primary catcher for the Yankees there, and in all roles he appeared in 123 games. He had 453 at bats and hit .289 with 21 home runs. He threw out 23 percent of base runners.
His season at Scranton was almost a tale of two halves. He started very slowly, but then made major improvements both at the plate and behind it. He began to draw rave reviews from scouts and Yankee evaluators alike. It was after his fine season that Cashman announced he would be given a shot at the starting job in New York for the upcoming season.
When Montero came to camp in Tampa, he was very impressive at first. Everybody raved about his improvement behind the plate.
But over the five weeks of camp, Montero seems to have regressed in most opinions. He has not hit as well as expected, and he seems to be slower and less sure behind the plate.
So the question begs, what do the Yankees do with these young catchers?
There would be plenty of takers if the Yankees wanted to include them in trades. Montero has already been mentioned in several possible deals, including the aborted trade last July for Cliff Lee. If rumors are believed, Cashman was ready to deal Montero, but when Seattle asked for Eduardo Nunez, Cashman pulled back from the deal and Lee went to Texas.
Cervelli could start for teams in the major leagues and may make a long, steady career as a backup catcher, if he does not make it as a regular. There are teams willing to take Cervelli in a package deal.
Romine is talked of by some as the best defensive catcher of the lot. Again, he could become trade bait at some point. Or, he could go north with the Yankees next week and work behind Martin until Cervelli is ready to return.
If this happens, all kinds of questions have to be asked.
Where does Romine go if Cervelli returns to the Bronx? Trenton? He played there all year. Does he have much more to prove at the Double A level?
Scranton would have been the natural progression for Romine, but if Montero doesn’t make the Yankee team, he is going to be in Triple A working on his defense. He needs to catch every day to prove he is major league backstop material. So where does Romine go to catch?
Sanchez is probably at least three years away from possible major league competition, but he may be the most intriguing of all. He has been called the best athlete of the four young men being considered here.
The Yankees have never been known for their patience with prospects, however. Exhibit One would be Austin Jackson. Jackson was traded away and became the starting center fielder for Detroit, arguably showing more potential than the player he was traded for, Curtis Granderson.
The Yankees have no reason to keep all four of these young catchers. There has been talk that Montero will switch positions and play first or be a full time DH. He won’t do that on the Yankees where Mark Teixeira is the gold glove first baseman who may play in New York for ten more years.
Posada is the DH now. But Girardi has long talked of needing that slot to spell veterans like ARod and Jeter. As those two players get older, one of them will probably be a primary DH. That may depend on ARod’s health, but the prospects of Montero being a full time DH for the Yankees is not good.
Right now, the best bet would probably be for one or more of these good young kids to be traded to bring in pitching. As mentioned above, Montero has apparently already been offered. Romine could be a good fit for certain teams, and almost any team would jump at the chance to steal Sanchez.
It would make more sense to package Cervelli with other prospects for pitching and try to let Montero and Romine show what they can do while they take their time with Sanchez’s development.
But the Yankees are seldom patient with prospects and often act rashly when the pocketbook is itching and the Yankees need pitching.
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