Austin Romine, 22, is a catcher listed at 6’1″ and 195 lbs. Born in Lake Forest, California, he was drafted in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft out of El Toro High School.
Romine was named the Florida State League Player of the Year in 2009 and participated in the All-Star Futures Game in 2010. Entering the 2010 season Baseball America ranked Romine as the second best prospect in the Yankees system and 86th in the league overall.
Romine signed with the Yankees on August 15, 2007. Because he signed so late he got to play in just one game in the Gulf Coast League that season. Romine then went to instructs before reporting to spring training in January of 2008. That impressed the Yankees enough to get him an invite to the big league camp in his very first spring training.
He started his first full professional season at Low-A Charleston where he split time behind the plate with fellow catching prospect Jesus Montero. In 104 games at that level he hit .300 with a .781 OPS. His 10 home runs that year were slightly disappointing, but they all came in the second half that year so it left room for optimism that he might have just gotten off to a slow start. Following the season he played in the Hawiian Winter League.
It was another January start for Romine in 2009 and another go around in the big league camp as well. He broke camp that year with the High-A Tampa Yankees where he again split time with Montero behind the plate. This time it was only for half the season though as Montero was promoted to Double-A Trenton after just 48 games in Tampa.
Montero got the promotion because he was absolutely raking, but Romine’s numbers weren’t improving. Overall in 2009 his batting average and OPS both dropped to .276 and .763 respectively. Still, the FSL is a tough league and his numbers earned him Player of the Year honors. More than anything it appeared that catching everyday wore on him as he hit just .235 in August that year and .265 in the second half that year.
Romine went to the Arizona Fall League after 2009, but left early due to an injured finger.
In 2010 Romine once again got a taste of big league camp, but this time showed up with more bulk than ever before. The reasoning was so he could fight off some of the fatigue that he experienced the year before when he became the primary catcher for the first time. 2010 would be an even bigger test though as he would report to Double-A Trenton for the first time and was without Montero for the entire season.
Romine started out very well in Trenton hitting .325 in April and May. He earned a trip to the Futures Games and was named to the Eastern League All-Star team as well. But a full year behind the plate wore on him and he slumped through a lot of the second half of the season. By the end his average dropped to .268 with a .726 OPS.
Romine has potential to be a .300 hitter with 15-25 home run power. Certainly not at Montero’s level, but still very strong for a catcher. He is aggressive without being overly aggressive (swinging at everything) at the plate, but it does keep him from getting a lot of walks.
He has pretty good speed for a catcher, swiping 11 bags in 2009, but he’s young and a catcher so there is no reason to think that he won’t slow down a bit as time goes on. He stole just two bases in 2010.
The best thing about Romine is not just that he can hit, but that he is an excellent fielder too. He has excellent arm strength and a strong receiver. Over the past year he has focused primarily on calling a better game.
2011 is a big year for Romine. Still just 22-years-old, it isn’t a make or break year for him or anything, but he his average and OPS have dropped each year he’s been in the organization and he has lost his spot as the no. 2 prospect in the organization. In order to remain a top prospect he has to show that he can play at a high level for an entire year.
At this point it is hard to say where he starts the year, Double-A, Triple-A, or even the big leagues. It seemed like he was a lock to start the year in Triple-A, but then the Yankees added Russell Martin. Now it appears likely that he’ll start the year in Double-A with a chance of a promotion once Montero reaches the majors probably in late May.