Yankees catching depth has helped shape current roster

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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.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that was as the Yankees signed veteran catcher Brian McCann to replace Russell Martin, but that catching depth has had a huge impact on the current roster.

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.

About Rob Abruzzese

Rob Abruzzese created Bronx Baseball Daily in 2008 just before graduating from Brooklyn College. He currently serves BBD as its editor and works as a reporter at the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobAbruzzese.

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9 Responses to Yankees catching depth has helped shape current roster

  1. tom says:

    I can't wait to find out what will happen to Luis Torrens.

  2. mosc says:

    I actually think Romine will make the MLB roster out of spring training. There's not really another reason they added him to the 40-man prior to the rule 5 draft other than with the expectation that they were going to trade Ryan and carry Romine on the 25-man, at least at the start of the season (keeping Sanchez at AAA for a bit if not all of 2016).

  3. Paul says:

    You're Dreaming … Another Dead Bat! Should have dealt Romine and kept Murphy..

  4. Balt Yank says:

    Mosc is probably right…. LOL.

  5. Mosc certainly makes a good point. Romine might not swing a good stick, but he can play defense at a major league level and wouldn't be the worst backup catcher to have for a couple of months. That way the Yankees can hold off Sanchez until June and get an extra year out of him.

    If McCann is hurt, even just a minor injury where the backup will get somewhat regular playing time, that goes out the window and Sanchez will get called up immediately.

    • mosc says:

      I think If McCann was put on the DL, Sanchez would start not Romine but as a backup and platooned heavily, Romine is a servicable backup (yankee fans are spoiled on that lately with Cervelli, Murphy). Think Chris Stuart mold.

      And really, Romine's just a hedge to allow you 2 months of looking at Sanchez in AAA as a starter in exchange for 2022 control (the 4th post-McCann year).

      Scenario 1 McCann Healthy and Sanchez hitting well: Call up Sanchez and DFA Romine in June protecting 2022 control
      Scenario 2 McCann Healthy and Sanchez needs more time: Leave Sanchez in AAA, maybe trade for a backup at the trade deadline or pick one up off waivers and DFA Romine if he's that bad
      Scenario 3 McCann or Sanchez DL: Call up Sanchez to start if McCann goes down going around Romine but you have protected Romine from rule5/free agency and have a reasonable backup given this scenario. If Sanchez is on the DL he's not an option anyway and stick with your McCann/Romine MLB situation.
      Scenario 4 McCann AND Sanchez DL: Could get worse than Romine. At least you have him. This is the only situation where you'd miss Murphy and this seems unlikely.

      • mosc says:

        If Romine hits, he becomes trade bait after 2016 while he's still under control pre-arb. Sell him off in an A's-like way (they do this most with giving guys a shot at closer and trading them after ANY success for inflated value). If Romine fails to hit, you can probably maintain him after a DFA for additional 2016 depth. Doesn't stop you from having McCann/Sanchez platoon in 2017.

        If you DFA Romine now, he'd probably sign elsewhere, maybe even get himself a backup MLB job for 2016 and that brings zero Yankee value 2016 or 2017.

        • mosc says:

          Sorry to keep tacking on but imagine if Romine does ok as a backup in 2016 and we get to trade him off next off-season. Also assuming some success from Cervelli and Murphy, Romine would look like the latest output of our catching factory ready for consumption!

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