As the remaining few weeks go by before the beginning of Spring Training, it’s time to take a look at the positional depth in the Yankees organization. Today, we will start with the catchers and move around the diamond over the next few weeks. The New York Yankees have always been noted as having a farm system that develops catchers. The past eight years have seen MLB top prospect lists dotted with the names of Yankees catchers. Dealing from a position of strength, the club has used some of this talent in several trades bringing back players such as Michael Pineda, Justin Wilson, and other prospects. Although the position at the top levels of the minor league system is not as strong as recent years, there is still a reasonable amount of quality lining up behind the incumbent in the Bronx, Brian McCann.
The Starter: Brian McCann
McCann begins his third campaign in pinstripes as the rock solid leader behind the plate. Always a consistent power threat, he has also proved to be an accomplished defender and has a great presence in the clubhouse. His numbers may not be matching what he brought to the table during his time in Atlanta, but 26 home runs and 90-plus runs batted in while providing at worst, league average defense, will prove highly beneficial to the Yankees in 2016.
Fans were salivating at the thought of McCann launching balls at the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium when he signed his 5-year, $85 million contract before the 2014 season. The days of his .270 batting average may be gone, but he still has the pop to put fear in opposing pitchers. 2015 saw an increase in his walk rates and correspondingly in his on-base percentage. Barring significant injury, McCann will give the Yankees 130 games behind the plate and still be one of the Bombers leaders.
The Backup Candidates:
John Ryan Murphy proved to be more than adequate in a backup role in 2015. After his trade to Minnesota for Aaron Hicks, the position will be up for grabs in Spring Training. It seems that Gary Sanchez has been a top Yankee prospect for more years than I care to remember. His defense and attitude have seemed to be what has dogged him during his minor league career. Known for his power bat, 2015 showed possibilities of a turning point defensively and in attitude. Combined with a spectacular showing in the Arizona Fall League, Sanchez seems ready to take the next step with a move to the Bronx. Currently ranked as the number 2 prospect in the Yankees system, it is easy to forget that Sanchez is still a youngster at 22 years of age. He will go into Spring as the fan favorite to make the Opening Day roster. If he proves he can handle duties behind the plate, his bat could be pivotal off the bench in 2016.
Romine’s minor league career with the Yankees has seen him go from top 10 prospect to being designated for assignment early last Spring. After clearing waivers, he re-signed with the Yankees and put together one of his better offensive seasons at Scranton. Defense has always been Romine’s strong suit and could be what wins him a roster spot this season. A strong Spring will give the Yankees second thoughts about what to do with Romine. If he doesn’t make the team, he will more than likely seek to move to another organization. He is out of options and would more than likely decline a minor league assignment. With a lack of depth in Triple-A, the idea of keeping Romine on the roster will be intriguing. Furthering this idea would be the fact that he has some experience the past few minor league seasons at first base. This would bring about the possibility of him being a backup option behind Mark Teixeira.
In the Minors:
Carlos Corporan has been signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training. The 25 year old has five years of experience with the Astros and most recently in 2015, with the Texas Rangers. Known as an excellent pitch framer, he showed he could also handle the bat during his time with the Astros. He will get a shot at the backup role during Spring Training, but more than likely Corporan is ticketed to Scranton as depth in case of injury on the big league roster.
Kyle Higashioka put up fairly good offensive numbers for Tampa in 2015, but being 25 years old, was definitely advanced in age for that level. He is more than likely just organizational filler, but given the lack of prospects at the higher levels of the organization, will get a shot in 2016 at either Scranton or Trenton.
The Yankees have several catchers under minor league contract that will provide nothing more than filling out roster positions in Double-A and Triple-A this season. These include Eddy Rodriguez, Francisco Diaz, Sebastian Valle, and Santiago Nessy.
The Future: Luis Torrens
Torrens was signed out of Venezuela for $1.3 million and was having a fantastic 2014 season before shoulder problems derailed it. The converted shortstop was being fast tracked with an assignment to Low-A Charleston. After returning from a trip to the disabled list with his initial shoulder problems, he made the all-star team at Staten Island. Diagnosed early in 2015 with a torn labrum, Torrens missed the entire season after surgery. His impressive bat was one of the reasons he was named the second best international prospect in 2013 by Baseball America. It remains to be seen what his arm strength will be when he returns from surgery this Spring, but he is still only 19 years old and will more than likely start the season at Charleston. If his return is successful, it would not be unusual to see Torrens move fairly quickly through the organization with a possible major league ETA of 2018.
The Yankees have their starting catcher locked up for several more seasons. They need Gary Sanchez to fulfill his promise as they look to the future. This will make it much easier to transition Brian McCann to possibly a DH and backup first base role as his contract comes to an end. Although the Yankees do not have many top catching prospects at the upper levels of the minors, they do have an abundance of candidates that are just now beginning to move into the lower levels of the system. Only time will tell how they turn out, but for now the position is in good hands in the Bronx.