BBDP Rankings: Top five catchers

13 SPROMINE MURRAYThe catching depth in this organization took a hit after the 2012 season when it was announced that both Greg Bird and Christopher Breen would be moved off the position. The Yankees are still one of the best in the league in terms of catching depth. They possess one of the best catching prospects in all of baseball, and in addition to that several other players with solid long term potential. We saw just how valuable catchers can be this offseason with the millions of dollars paid out to Russell Martin, who batted .211 this past season, and AJ Pierzynski who can’t play defense.

1. Gary “The Sanchize” Sanchez: 20 years old, 6-foot-2, 220-pounds, swings right handed. BBDP Ranking: #2 (would be number one if the Manny Banuelos injury was known at the time of the ranking). Baseball America ranking: 81. This was an obvious choice. Sanchez combines a top notch minor league bat with improving defense and decent athleticism. He has strong hands and quick wrists, excellent power and good patience at the plate. His defense is solid right now, but with his build he will have to continue to work hard to stay ahead of the game. He has great raw arm strength and good accuracy on his throws. He’s not seen as a great receiver or blocker, but he improved significantly on those aspects of his game in 2012 to become more average. One of the best catching prospects in all of baseball, he should get some experience in Double-A by the end of 2013. His likely ETA is 2015, and his ceiling is a major league all-star catcher who bats in the middle of the order.

He hit .290 and had 18 homeruns with an .829 OPS in 2012 as a 19 year old in Low-A and High-A. Pretty impressive.

2. Austin “BRomine” Romine: 24 years old. 6-foot-0, 220-pounds, swings right handed. BBDP Ranking: #11. Injuries were his Achilles’ Heal in 2012. His back problems, however, have not hurt his standing with the organization. After trading Jesus Montero it’s obvious the organization has viewed Romine as the catcher of the future for a long time. He’ll be healthy to start 2013. Given the Yankees inactivity with the catching market this offseason, it appears Romine is primed to get some time as the starting catcher in the Bronx this year. His power hasn’t come along as expected, but a lot of that has to do with the back injuries. Now that he’s healthy, we should see what he can really do with both the bat and behind the dish. He missed a lot of developmental time with respect to hitting, so there’s no telling what the team may get from him in that department. The defense, however, is apparently not in question. He’s great with pitchers, he has plus plus leadership skills, and plus receiving and blocking behind the plate. If he can play his standard defense and hold his own with the bat in 2013, Yankees fans will forget Russell Martin’s name quicker than you can say $189 million. The ceiling at this point is an above average everyday catcher with top notch defensive skill. The ETA is 2013.

He hit just .243/.333/.408/.741 in 2012, but he was injured the whole time. He still managed to have a 24% caught stealing percentage, consistent with his career average.

3. JR “Murph” Murphy: 21 years old (to start 2013), 5-foot-11, 195-pounds, swings right handed. He was signed for his bat with the caveat in mind that if he sticks at catcher it will be a major bonus. After a trial in the outfield, Murphy has not only stuck at catcher but has actually also become a plus defender. He’s now a good receiver, leader, game-caller, and has a good arm. By good I mean better than average. He is an excellent hitter to go along with this. His patience fits well with the Yankees philosophy of seeing a lot of pitches. His average in 2012 (.248) left a lot to be desired, but most scouts feel that his approach and the type of contact he is making is not reflected by his average. He managed to hit nine homeruns last season in High-A and Double-A. If he continues to build on that season, he could find himself in the discussion for some catching reps in the Bronx by 2014. His realistic ceiling is an above average all-around starting major league catcher.

4. Peter “PO” O’Brien: 22 years old, 6-foot-5, 225-pounds, swings right handed. There’s only one other catcher in the organization with the offensive ceiling of O’Brien, and that’s Gary Sanchez. The question mark for O’Brien, as with many big bodied catchers, is his defense. He has a cannon for an arm but he lacks mobility which can be a major issue behind the dish. He struggles to block balls and frame pitches because of that. His defense greatly improved throughout the season though. He has a long way to go if he wants to remain a catcher, and this appears to be the major obstacle for him. His offensive numbers were not impressive in 2012. He ended up with a .212/.256/.401/.656 line, but managed to hit 10 homeruns in just 212 at bats. The power is obviously there, but the average must improve. He was battling a wrist injury for the whole 2012 season, so hopefully that was a factor in his ineffectiveness. If he can bring up his average and improve his defense, his ceiling is through the roof. You can’t teach the type of power that O’Brien has, especially for a catcher. Next season will be an important one, as the organization hopes he can show improvement across the board.

5. Isaias “The Hata” Tejeda: 21 years old. 6-foot-0, 195-pounds, swings right handed. Tejeda struggled in his first experience under the lights in Staten Island. It’s tough to knock him too hard though for a few reasons. First of all he was not getting consistent at bats, especially when Peter O’Brien came around. He was also adjusting to a new climate and playing under the lights for the first time in his career. That is no excuse for a .187 average, but there is still hope he can adjust and become a better hitter. He only had 120 at bats in 2012, so there is hope that with more consistent at bats he can start to come around. As a catcher who needs a lot of work on his defense, he can’t afford too many more seasons like this one, but he still has time to develop. His 2011 season in the GCL where he hit six homeruns and batted .331/.402/.563/.965 is not yet forgotten, but it will be soon if he doesn’t improve drastically as a player from his 2012 season.

5a. Dalton Smith: 18 years old, 6-foot-3, 205-pounds. He was drafted in the 36th round by the Yankees and they watched him for a while. They liked him enough to sign him late in the game and let him catch a few games for the GCL. It didn’t go all that well but he only had 28 at bats. I don’t know much about this kid except that he has excellent projectability, is one of the youngest players drafted by the Yankees in 2012, and he has some serious long term power potential. 2013 will be his coming out party, and hopefully he has learned a lot this offseason and worked hard.

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18 Responses to BBDP Rankings: Top five catchers

  1. R Maharg says:

    Time to let the kids interact with these old I dont care anymore group of Yankees. Let Sanchez start. Cant be any worse than Martin was in the first half of last year.

  2. The problem is that catchers are different than typical prospects in that they can't just be rushed because there is so much to learn at each stop. Austin Romine, without a full year in Triple-A, probably isn't even ready yet. Ideally he could play most of if not all of this season at Triple-A and then be broken in slowly with no more than 80 games behind the plate in 2014 and maybe 100-120 in 2015. Gary Sanchez, who hasn't even played 50 games at High-A yet, is not even a possibility to skip two levels.

    • gcorcoran says:

      Sanchez isn't ready, I agree. If, however, Romine's defense is truly as advertised I think he will be every bit as valuable as Martin was to the Yankees. He's a patient hitter. If he hits .250 he should have an OBP close to Martin's if not better. If he can do that then he won't be too much of a stepdown from Martin. It's a lot to ask, but it's not that farfetched either. I think Martin's offensive contribution in 2012 is completely overstated because of the homeruns he was able to hit. The homeruns are great, but he really didn't do much else at all.

  3. Keena says:

    Get Yogi in there to catch 40-50 games and let Romine do the rest until Sanchez is ready.

  4. Tanned Tom says:

    Quite a gamble to go with Stewart (who cannot hit) and Cervelli (who apparently cannot do anything) until Romine is ready in July, maybe. The team is essentially going 8 handed offensively, as Martin did provide some power. Really hard to believe the team will start just 2 players who had an OBP of .350 or more last year (Jeter and Cano). As comparison, the '98 team had no player who saw action in 100 games or more with an OBP below .350, none. Want to know why this team flops in the playoffs? Look no further than low OBP hitters like Teixeira and Granderson. Getting Gardner back might turn out to be the biggest improvement the club makes in 2013.

    • John says:

      totally agree with you tanned tom .. the yankees need to get back to what they use to do best … high OBP with good contact guys .. sure they are not going to hit 240 hrs but they can still score 800 runs in a bunch of different ways .. will it be harder? no doubt but i think the pitching staff is good enough to hold the other team down so we wont need 7+ runs every night to beat teams.

      • gcorcoran says:

        That's obviously the ideal player, someone who can hit for average AND get on base. Unfortunately the whole league has caught onto that and players who can do that either get extensions or they get paid insane amounts of money (i.e. Josh Hamilton). As for your comment Tanned Tom, I agree that we need players with high OBP but that's not the end all be all. These players have to have a good average to go along with it. Otherwise you're not gonna be able to win when you face pitchers who will come after you in the playoffs. These types of players are exceedingly hard to come by so there's no easy answer. Even money can't buy them nowadays, especially if you are penny pinching and padding your own pockets by trying to get under a salary cap.

        • Tanned Tom says:

          I agree, not looking for a team of Nick Johnsons. But rather a team that doesn't have a defensive liability, has decent speed and some power. If you remember Chad Curtis from the '98 team, he was nothing special. Hit .243/.355 with 10 HRs and 21 SBs, and was good in the field. In short he was an all around decent player. This is the kind of player that winning teams always seem to have.
          Your comment about pitchers coming after you in the playoffs is very apt. Most hitters, even good ones, hit mistakes, and their numbers tend to decline in the post season where they face better pitching (think Nick Swisher). What makes Jeter special is how he performs seemingly regardless of the level of competition. Now I'm not suggesting we just go and find a team of Jeters, it simply isn't possible. But I do think the star performer model saddles the team with too many low OBP guys. I'd rather have more Gardner's and less Granderson's.

    • sal says:

      gardner is nothing more than a baserunner and 4th outfielder.cant hit ,no power and strikes out way too much.not a contact hitter,misses the ball too much.playing a full season he might hit .250 with 4 hmrs. and 30- 40 rbis.41 yr old ibanez would of been more productive.need a starting left fielder,right handoutfielder to fill in for ichiro also.left handed power dh to come off bench.we will be in trouble if we dont fill these needs .right now we are looking at 85 wins the most.

      • Tanned Tom says:

        Gardner's played full time for 2 season and both years exceeded .250 and 4 HRs. RBIs are very much a product of lineup position, so hitting 9th he's not gonna lead the club in RBIs. He strikes out too often? Jeter strikes far more frequently, should we just cut him?
        Gardner is a gold glove caliber fielder, a great base runner/stealer, whose career BA is .266 and OBP is .355. To compare him to Ibanez is to compare two different types of players. You'd be hard pressed to find ANYONE in the game who thinks Ibanez is more valuable. The Yankees certainly don't think so, as they re-signed Gardner and not Ibanez.
        As for 85 wins at most, the last full season they won less than 85 games was 1992. Kind of shoots down your forecast.

  5. Mike says:

    I would like to see Sanchez accelerated through the system so by mid-year he can be used IF needed (which seems to be a real possibility). Better to go with someone young and average, who is continuing to develop, than with the below average corps they will be using.

    • gcorcoran says:

      It's not wise to rush catchers like that. As Rob mentioned above, they are on a different developmental curve than the rest. Learning to catch, call games, be an on field leader, receive, make accurate throws, and block balls while still trying to be an effective batter is the most challenging skill set to develop of any position. It takes years to develop. Few catchers have all of that come to them naturally. Joe Mauer and Buster Posey are two exceptions, but catching has not come as naturally to Sanchez as those two. He clearly has to work hard at his craft in order to be a plus defender. He may be able to play in Double-A this year, but expecting him to be ready any sooner than 2015 is a long shot. Best case scenario, he could be ready for the majors by mid season 2014. Anything sooner than that would either be a significant step up in the rate of his development, a miracle, or poor management decisions.

  6. Mike says:

    Baseball is baseball at any level, defensively. The key component between the Majors and the Minors is the pitching he will face as a hitter. Guys learn their positions as time passes. I really doubt that Sanchez's defense is so bad that he can't do an average job. How many catchers now call their own game? How many catchers do not know how to block pitches, or throw to a base? All of these skills are now taught from little league up. Bottom line, if he can hit he can play. I doubt he would still be a catcher if he weren't average. I still say don't let him rot in the minors like so many others.

    • gcorcoran says:

      See that's where I think you're wrong. The theories you just applied to defense don't apply to catchers. They have to learn their craft as a professional just as hitters must be able to hit. It's not like the outfield where some people can go out there and naturally get good reads, or are naturally fast with a cannon for an arm. As a catcher, you have to focus on so many different things, and you have to be on point every pitch of the game or you can lose the game for your team. You can't be allowing passed balls. Baserunners advance and runs score. They have to work on their release time, their arm strength, throws to second, pitch calling, on field leadership, blocking, and framing. These are things that take years to develop for most players.

  7. Mike says:

    Trust me, I've been there. The best years of these kids lives as a defender behind the plate are when they are young, pliable, and resilient. As a catcher ages he gets all kinds of nicks, scrapes, and knocks that prohibit, or at least interfere with defense. All of the elements you mentioned are crucial but waiting around for Sanchez to develop all of these, well no one is perfect and if he isn't close to being there by this time he may never make it. In the meantime his bat will fade away languishing in the minors. This seems to be a familiar routine in the Yankee organization of late.

    • gcorcoran says:

      By the time Gary Sanchez's defense begins to fade, his contract with the Yankees will be long over. Catchers don't start to fade until their 30's. Gary Sanchez will be 20 to start next season. At the current rate, he will probably be 23 by the time he reaches the major leagues. They'll have him for 6 seasons after that under team control, making him 29. He will not see a decline in his catching as a Yankee (unless he gets injured).
      If you wait to promote him, we would have him for his 23-29 years, when he will be older, more experienced, a better catcher, and a much better hitter. His skills will not start to fade by the time that contract is up.

      There's no sense in rushing him and promoting him now and prematurely starting the arbitration clock. In this case, his contract would end at the age of 26, before he even reaches his prime.

      His bat will not be "languishing" in the minors. Actually, the whole point of the minors is to develop players so they are ready when they finally make it to the show. In his current state, his bat is not ready for the majors and won't be for a couple of years. To the contrary, if he was rushed along he might not be able to handle major league pitching, and he could easily lose confidence and never be the same player. Fans would lose patience quickly as well.

      I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say "I've been there." Perhaps since you have experience with this you could provide some examples of what you are talking about. I just don't see the value in rushing this kid along.

  8. Mike says:

    We all have opinions and more often than not they arise from our experiences. Mine are from over 30 years of playing (catching) and coaching. That in and of itself doesn't make me an expert. The term is highly over-rated. I've dealt with a lot of knowledegable people in athletics (baseball in particular) but no one is a genius. Some are luckier than others. I'm old school, and I suspect you and I are separated by many years. To me, baseball has always been and will always be, trial & error. No amount of coaching can make a player what he isn't. My arm wasn't strong enough and my bat was to light to advance any farther. No amount of weight training or long toss would change that. No amount of hitting instruction or weight training would change my hitting (or lack thereof). My point is that you give a kid a chance to see what he can do and if he can't handle it you send him down and hope he improves. That has happened with many Hall-Of -Famers. If he isn't mentally fragile, he'll work hard to get back. If not, he'll fade away (Cervelli???). I never have believed in coddling players. Baseball is a brutally tough business, not for the faint of heart. It has been interesting sharing insights with you. I guess we can agree to disagree.

    • gcorcoran says:

      You make a lot of good points. I agree that coddling a player is not going to help them develop. On the other hand, I don't feel that throwing them to the wolves is the best way either. I believe in putting these players in the best position to succeed. There are some things that players will never get better at no matter how much the training they undergo. There are other things, however, that can improve quite a bit with experience. We've seen several Yankees catching prospects improve in a major way while in the minors. One example is JR Murphy. That said, if you have a player who has a season, or even half of a season, with success in AAA and the talent of someone like Sanchez then I don't see a good reason to hold them back anymore.

      Finally, it's not all about player development. It's also about what is best for the team. In this case, for the reasons stated above, I think it's better for the team to have 23-29 year old Sanchez than 20-26 year old Sanchez. His bat is not yet good enough to justify the current lack of defense, and the team would be stuck with a catcher who is below average in both facets of his game.