NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 31: (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT) Kyle Higashioka #66 of the New York Yankees in action against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on July 31, 2020 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 5-1. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
After a hot start this season from Kyle Higashioka, Aaron Boone has said that the catcher has “earned more playing time.” He has made the most of his opportunities and with a struggling Gary Sanchez, it’s a no brainer to keep sending out Higgy. But have the Yankees overlooked Higgy the last couple of year? Let’s dive into the stats.
Throughout his major league career, the catcher has only 219 at bats despite playing in every season since 2017. In those 219 at bats he has hit .201 but with intriguing power. In 219 career at bats, Higgy has 14 HR’s. That HR rate averages out to 38 HR’s over 6oo at bats. What I find even more intriguing about this stat, is that he has averaged such high rates of power without playing everyday.
I decided to take a look at his minor league stats to see if he’s always had this kind of power. Once again, I was shocked. Throughout the first eight years of his professional career, Higashioka had very limited power at the plate. His average sat in the mid .200’s and it was no surprise to me why he wasn’t viewed as a top prospect throughout these years. Higgy broke into professional baseball at 18 years old, so for many of these years he was still developing and maturing. 2016 was the year he really started hitting with power and it came out of nowhere. He hit 21 HR’s in 416 AB’s. Prior to 2016, he never hit more than eight home runs in a season.
Three separate injuries kept him sidelined most of 2017. 2018 between AAA and the major leagues, his power wasn’t were it once was. It wasn’t until 2019 where his power started opening people’s eyes again. In 2019, in AAA, Higgy hit 20 HR’s in 270 AB’s. He also showed some power in the major leagues last year as well. In an extremely limited sample size, Higgy once again showed some power and hit 4 HR’s in 48 at bats. Now we’re in 2020 and Higgy is once again hitting for power.
He leads the position players on the team with a .8 WAR and continues to provide great defense behind the plate. Yankees catching coach Tanner Swanson has said “[Higashioka] just has really elite glove skill…I think his hands work extremely well. They’re smooth, quiet. He’s got really strong pocket accuracy and subtly manipulates pitches back to the strike zone. He’s refined the art of that skill and is really, really consistent doing so.”
It’ll be interesting to see if Higgy can keep this tear going. Maybe he was the one Yankees catching prospect who was overlooked.