J.R. Murphy was the breakout star of the Yankee farm system in 2013. He tore it up with the bat and glove in Double-A and Triple-A and earned himself a September call up. Earlier this season, he returned to the show as John Ryan Murphy, parlaying last year's success into another call up to replace the injured Francisco Cervelli. Murphy impressed coaches and teammates alike with his strong all-around skill set, showing good natural hitting ability and advanced defensive and game management tactics for a 22-year-old catcher. He had a .407/.429/.556 slash line in his first 11 games.
Murphy legitimized himself as a Major League catching prospect with that hot start to his 2014 season, and when the eventual regression at the plate came (7-36 with 11 K in his next 13 games), it was an expected and understandable decision to send him back down to Triple-A and let Cervelli re-assume his regular backup duties. Interestingly enough, Murphy didn't start raking again upon his return to SWB. He hit a pedestrian .254/.321/.366 in July and had a lower batting average and OBP in August, when he missed almost 2 weeks with an injury of his own. Overall he hit just .246/.292/.397 in 196 Triple-A plate appearances this year. On the heels of his big 2013 campaign, his 2014 feels like a step back.
But wait. Cervelli is once again out with physical problems, this time a headache issue that could be concussion-related, and Murphy has once again been thrust into the backup role. With 21 games to play and the Yankees still mathematically in the playoff race, he could get some important playing time and will get another chance to audition for the backup role next year. He's only played in 1 game since coming up, last Saturday afternoon against the Royals. He went 2-4 in that game with a double and a run scored, raising his season MLB line back up to .299/.319/.388.
With Cervelli approaching arbitration eligibility and a possible pay raise into 7 figures this offseason, and with his tendency to get hurt seemingly not going away any time soon, the Yankees could look to replace and upgrade him permanently with Murphy. Murphy isn't going to get a ton of playing time over the next 3 weeks, unless McCann gets hurt of course. If he can show enough good things in the time he does get, though, he could position himself as the favorite for the backup job heading into 2015.