Back when Jesus Montero was the Yankees’ top minor league prospect, the system was loaded with catching talent. From Montero, to Austin Romine, to John Ryan Murphy, Peter O’Brien and Gary Sanchez it looked like the next great Bronx catcher would be home grown.
Montero was the brightest star among the group, but his lack of defense made him expendable in Brian Cashman’s eyes. So Montero was shipped to Seattle for Michael Pineda, who has suffered a series of shoulder injuries, but he’s mostly put that behind him while Montero hasn’t been able to find a position or swing a consistent bat.
Peter O’Brien was the next chip to be moved. The power hitting catcher was shipped off to Arizona in exchange for Martin Prado. O’Brien has turned himself into a decent prospect, hitting .284/.332/.551 in 131 games at Triple-A last year, but Prado did well for the Yankees, he hit .316/.336/.541 in 37 games, before he was traded to Miami along with David Phelps for Nathan Eovaldi.
After the Yankees signed McCann, they had a number of players vying for a backup position. Cervelli filled that role in 2014, but by 2015 he was replaced by Murphy. When that happened, Cashman traded Cervelli to Pittsburgh in exchange for Justin Wilson. Cervelli was great for the Pirates, he hit .295/.370/.401 in 130 games, but Wilson was the biggest part of the Yankees bullpen outside of the Andrew Miller/Dellin Betances combo. His 3.10 ERA wasn’t as impressive as he was at points during the year and his 9.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 show a bit more of the picture.
Cervelli was the odd man out last year, but it was Murphy who was pushed out this offseason by Sanchez, who showed he’s ready for the show when he hit .295/.349/.500 in 35 Triple-A games before he dominated the Arizona Fall League. So Cashman shipped Murphy to Minnesota for Aaron Hicks. Hicks, a 26-year-old switch hitter, has improved offensively in each of his three stints in the majors and finished at .256/.323/.398 in 97 games last year.
It’s hard to know what to expect exactly from Hicks in 2016, but at the very least he’ll be an excellent fourth outfielder the Yankees will use against lefties. Last year he completely mashed against southpaws, and hit .307/.375/.495 in 101 at bats against them. Cashman, no doubt, is hoping that Hicks will continue to improve similarly to how Didi Gregorius did a season ago, as evidenced by the fact that he said that he’s capable of being an everyday player.
So the Yankees took a minor league system packed with catching prospects and turned it into two solid young starters (Pineda and Eovaldi), a strong middle reliever (Wilson), a fourth outfielder and potential outfielder (Hicks) and they saved the best all-around catching prospect (Sanchez) to slide in behind McCann, hopefully ready to take over the position when he is a free agent.
Not bad work from Brian Cashman. He was able to deal almost all of his catching prospects for useful parts, keeping the best one, and used the Yankees money effectively in free agency to make it all work. The only blemish would be Romine, who flamed out as a prospect before the Yankees were able to get any value from him (no team claimed him a year ago when the Yankees put him on waivers). At least he’s a solid player to stash in Triple-A in case of an emergency.