Francisco Cervelli‘s 2009 season was arguably the best from a Yankee backup catcher since John Flaherty posted a .754 OPS in 2003.
Since 2004, we’ve seen a string of poor offensive backup catchers like Wil Nieves, Kelly Stinnett and Sal Fasano. Jose Molina played extremely well in 29 games after being acquired by the Yankees in 2007, but he proceeded to have two disgraceful offensive seasons after that. I know Molina was brought in because of his defense, but a backup catcher should not struggle to hit .220 in a given season.
My point is, Yankee fans could see something they haven’t in more than ten years: a really, really good backup catcher.
We already know that Cervelli is a very talented defensive player. According to scouting reports and what I’ve seen, Cervelli has an incredibly strong, accurate arm and a quick release. He’s quick on his feet, extremely energetic, calls a solid game and knows how to handle pitchers. According to scouting reports, his makeup is off the charts and he is a leader in the clubhouse. All of that sounds extremely encouraging, but you could easily say the same for many defense-first catchers in the league.
What sets Cervelli apart is his knack for making contact and hitting hard grounders. Take a look at his stats and you’ll see that he posted a 1.36 GB/FB ratio in 2009. Jorge Posada‘s GB/FB ratio was 0.84 in 2009, and he has not posted one above 1.09 since 2004. Posada obviously brings more to the table offensively and made more plate appearances, but the point I’m trying to make is that Francisco Cervelli is no slouch at the plate.
I never really take much stock in projections, but take a look at what Bill James, CHONE and Marcel think Cervelli is capable of next season:
Bill James: .280 AVG – 3 HR – 20 RBI in 161 AB
Marcel: .284 AVG – 6 HR – 32 RBI in 224 AB
CHONE: .257 AVG – 4 HR – 23 RBI in 245 AB
Like I said before, I don’t take much stock in projections, but I think its safe to assume Cervelli will manage to hit above .265 with a handful of homers. If he works closely with Kevin Long and some of the veteran players, I think we will see Cervelli blossom into a very production catcher – one who is capable of starting.
This leads me to my next point. If Nick Johnson suffers a season-ending injury next season, would the Yankees benefit from using Posada as the designated hitter and Cervelli as the starting catcher? Probably.