Lots of Backup Catcher Options

Last season, the Yankees catchers position was among the worst in all of MLB. Collectively Yankee catchers hit .213/.287/.298/.585 with a 61 wRC+ and a .266 wOBA.

The Yankees solved that problem for this season by signing Brian McCann. McCann is one of the best all around catchers in MLB and should be able to take advantage of the short porch in right field. Also, he should be a good leader going forward in a time when the Yankees will be looking for new leaders.

McCann will be a huge upgrade over Chris Stewart and as long as he stays healthy he will be a key cog in the middle of the order. Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy and Francisco Cervelli are three intriguing options to backup McCann. This will be one of the key battles to watch in spring training.

Cervelli is the only one of the three without minor league options, so if he loses the job he becomes trade bait. However, Brian Cashman recently stated that does give Cervelli an edge over Romine and Murphy.

Cervelli was having a great April for the Yankees last season before breaking his hand on a foul tip. He hit for much more power than he ever has before, as he hit three home runs and had a .231 ISO. His ISO from 2009-2011 was .089 and had five home runs combined in those three seasons. We later found out why, as Cervelli was suspended 50 games by MLB for using PEDs.

Last April was definitely the outlier in Cervelli's career, as his career batting line is .271/.343/.367/.710. The batting average is good, but it is mostly an empty batting average with a career .319 wOBA and a 93 wRC+. Cervelli's defense has never been great either, and he has only thrown out 27% of base runners for his career.

After Cervelli got injured Romine became Stewart's backup and struggled for the majority of the season. He finished with brutal hitting numbers, but over the second half of the season Romine hit .271/.343/.407/.750 (106 wRC+). You hope that improvement can carry over into the 2014 season because Romine's defense was pretty solid.

Murphy came up with the Yankees for September call ups and is one of the top prospects in the Yankees system. Baseball America ranked Murphy 4th among Yankees prospect and FanGraphs ranked him 2nd.

Murphy posted a .773 OPS between Double- A and Triple-A last season while improving his defense. He will not ever be a big home run hitter, but he has a solid line-drive swing and has gap power, which is fine for a catcher.

Murphy has more potential than Romine, so I would like to see him get more playing time at Triple A. Having Romine and Murphy both at Triple- A would both stunt their growth. Also, what would you do if and when you want to promote Gary Sanchez?

So, Romine should be the backup and Cervelli traded. I cannot see Cervelli putting up numbers again like he did April of last season. Murphy will get plenty of playing time at Triple- A and would be a good catcher to call up if an injury strikes.

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First Impressions Of Adams And Romine

Adams vs BAL

While the unexpected success of veterans like Wells and Hafner dominated the early headlines, lately it's the kids getting the bulk of the spotlight as the Yankees continue to get helpful contributions from rookies.  5 in all have made their Major League debut already this season, something that the Yanks haven't done since guys like Mo and Jeter debuted back in '95.  For a team that's had its MiL system defined by a lack of upper-level impact talent, it's notable not only for the number of players but also for the fact that the team continues to win ballgames and have those rookies be major contributors to those victories.  Vidal Nuno throwing shutout starts, Preston Claiborne getting late-inning outs in big spots, David Adams raking from the middle of the order, it's all great.

Whether you're a prospect hugger or not, something like watching a bunch of  homegrown rookies come up and play well is always exciting from a fan's perspective.  Those guys are easy to root for and I always find myself paying more attention to their at-bats and plays in the field to see how they look as Major Leaguers.  For a number of reasons, I hadn't watched a live Yankee game in a couple weeks up until last night's ESPN broadcast.  I got my first ever look at Adams and Austin Romine last night, two guys who I ID'd last year as rookies I expected to contribute this season, and as a fan and a pseudo-prospect hugger here's my take on them.

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Yankees' Commitment To Catching Defense Nothing New

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

Some time has passed since the shocker of Russell Martin signing with the Pirates, almost 1 month to be exact.  And in that time, the surprise factor of the move has barely worn off and the calls for the Yankees to make a trade or sign another catcher have continued to pour in from fans and writers alike.  The general consensus is that the underwhelming offensive trio of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, and Austin Romine isn't going to cut the mustard, and there's been little that the Yankee brass has said to change that perception.  Recently, Mike Eder wrote a piece on Romine's defensive skills and the high evaluation he's gotten from Mark Newman on those defensive skills that could signal good things for Romine's future in the organization.

While Newman's comments on Romine might not be surprising coming from someone on the Yankee payroll, they are consistent in terms of the emphasis the organization has put on defense behind the plate in recent years.  And as Mike pointed out, that commitment to defense could have been the deciding factor in letting guys like Martin and A.J. Pierzynski go and sticking with what the Yankees have.  It's frustrating given the team's apparent willingness to take an offensive hit at the position, but if this is the path the Yanks are going to take in 2013, they at least have to be commended for staying consistent in their decision making.

Let's not forget that we're just a few years removed from everybody practically lining up around the block to bitch and moan about how horrible a defensive catcher Jorge Posada was.  He probably stayed behind the plate full time longer than he rightfully should have because of his reputation and status as a member of the team's most recent dynastic glory days.  It was thought that Cervelli would bring some defensive stability to the position, but that turned out to be a bit too aggressive of an assumption.  So the Yankees went out and made a big move to address their defensive catching weaknesses when they signed Martin, who, if we're being fair, hadn't exactly done much with the bat in his final 2 years in LA.  Injuries and rapid offensive decline led to him being non-tendered by the Dodgers, so it's not like the Yankees were banking on getting big production from Martin either.

The logic in bringing in Martin was to upgrade behind the plate defensively, with any offensive bounce back being icing on the cake.  That was the same logic in trading for Stewart before last season, the same logic in trading away Jesus Montero, and the same logic being used now to work Romine into the mix.  I said after the story of Martin signing with Pittsburgh broke that the Yankees must have seen something in Martin's play that influenced their decision to let him walk, despite the fact that he still grades out as a plus run saver and pitch framer, and I still believe that.  It's not like this commitment to good catching defense is something out of the blue, and it's not like it's something that should or will make or break the team.  Truthfully, if the Yankees weren't watching the rest of their high-priced position player deteriorate before their eyes or willfully letting better offensive players than Martin leave via free agency, the loss felt from Martin's departure would probably be minimal.

Would I still prefer the Yankees go out and add a better everyday catching option than they currently have in-house?  Absolutely.  But with the way they've gone about addressing that position since putting Jorge out to pasture, I wouldn't count on that happening.  The Yankees' sole focus is building a strong defensive presence at catcher and that's something they feel like they have right now.  It's understandable for people to still be frustrated by the move, but you have to admit that the Yankees have stayed consistent in their decision making and move making relating to the catcher position recently and there's something to be said for that.  They know more about the strengths and weaknesses of their players than I do, and based on how the Martin move worked out for them I'm willing to let things play out with the catchers they still have.

Yankees Believe In Austin Romine's Defense

Up until last week, the best offensive free agent catcher was begging for a contract from someone. If considering A.J. Pierzysnki, teams saw his 2012 offensive production, but also had to consider his defensive metrics, his  age, and his character issues. Personally, I was completely against the idea of  the Yankees signing him, but now that he'll be a Ranger on a modest one-year deal, Yankee fans are free to second guess the club's non-interest. The organization has already signed four major league players to one year deals, and A.J. Pierzysnki would have been a similar low risk signing. At the age of 35, the catcher put together his best offensive season of his career, and was good for a 3.4 fWAR. In comparison, Martin received a three year deal after posting a 2.2 fWAR the same season. But age makes all the difference here, as Pierzysnki's 2012 season was, and will likely remain, an outlier in his career. Even so, with Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Austin Romine prepared to start for the Yankees, can beggars be choosers?

The Yankees started listing their reasons immediately, and indicated that they particularly didn't like his defense.  Blocking balls and framing pitches has grown more important to the organization since Jorge Posada left the position. Last year's catcher, Russell Martin, has a great defensive history behind the plate, despite a down season. Martin's consistently listed in the top tier of pitch framers, and there is reason to believe that his glove was quite a few additional wins over the course of a year. It surprised most people when the Yankees uneventfully let him sign with the Pirates, and now it seems that the team is optimistic about Austin Romine.

Romine has missed plenty of time of late, but at one point he was a top prospect in the organization's system. At the age of 24, Romine has only played 13 games behind the plate in Triple-A, and his career minor league numbers show a .278/.333/.414 slash. As unspectacular as they are, Romine has shown an a respectable approach at the plate. In the 497 plate appearances in 2011, he increased his walk rate to 8.6% and lowered his strikeout rate to 16.1%. Though not advanced, his walk rates and strikeout rates have improved throughout his career. Though I wouldn't expect much offensively next season, Romine knows how to draw a walk and avoid strikeouts, and he still has some upside with the bat when you consider the weakness of his position.

As stated before, the Yankees care more about defense, and the organization thinks very highly of Romine in this category. When asked about the catcher, Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, Mark Newman, said, "He’s a plus, plus defender. He can really play the position." Of course, Newman's not going to say he sucks, but as a respected name in the industry, Newman can't call all his prospects "plus, plus defenders." In the same interview, Newman told Chad Jennings of LoHud that he was happy with Romine's bat, but was especially impressed by his receiving skills.

Personally, I still believe that there's a better chance the team trades for a catcher, than have Romine start the season behind the plate, but if they are truly confident in his defense, than it puts together pieces of the catcher puzzle. If the Yankees were willing to let Martin and Pierzysnki walk while expressing such little interest, Romine might be the heir behind the plate.

The Young Guys Most Likely To Contribute In 2013

(The following is being syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

There's still the possibility of a blockbuster trade, something I think almost all of us are secretly hoping for after the excitement-less Winter Meetings.  But with the Yankees holding firm on their free agent signing plans for this offseason, and with that plan assuredly continuing into the next offseason when the payroll goal will loom largest, the likelihood of the Yankees having to use their top-level Minor Leaguers as more than just emergency filler or roster expansion fodder is very high.

We all know the Yankees don't have much high-impact, high-level talent in their system, but that's not to say they don't have players capable of contributing as useful bench or bullpen pieces or even winning a starting job if it comes to that.  The only "top" prospect with a shot at making the show in 2013 is Tyler Austin, and even that is a longshot, but here are some other guys who could see some significant PT at the Major League level next season.

Austin Romine- C

I know 2012 was a lost season for him, I know he didn't hit in the AZFL, I know he hasn't hit much at all since making it to Triple-A, and I know he needs more ABs to try to get his offensive game back together.  I also know that the Yankees are probably heading into spring camp in 2013 with a collection of hot garbage to pick through to find their starting catcher (no offense, guys).  With Russell Martin on his way to Pittsburgh, Jesus Montero out in Seattle, and the luxury tax goals looming, this is probably Romine's best shot at breaking in as the Yankees' catcher of the future.  Fellow TYA writer Mike Jaggers-Radolf wrote about this yesterday, and while he didn't have an especially rosy outlook on Romine's potential, I'm of the opinion that if Romine impresses in ST there's no reason not to take him on the Opening Day roster.  Even if he doesn't make the team out of camp, Romine is going to be on the cusp of getting called up all season as long as he stays healthy.

David Adams- 2B/3B

A little bit of a stretch considering Adams is still in Double-A, but with the investment the Yankees put into Adams in 2012 (trying him at third base, sending him the AZFL) it's pretty obvious they have bigger plans for him than they do for Corban Joseph.  CoJo's limited defensive skills and late power breakout this season make him an ideal add-on as part of a trade package, while Adams' defensive flexibility and more well-rounded offensive game make him an attractive option as a utility infielder on the bench.  The competition won't be too steep, and now that he's come all the way back health-wise from his ankle injury Adams could find himself on the fast track to Triple-A and the Majors if he's swinging a hot bat early in 2013.

Ronnier Mustelier- IF/OF

What do you do when you have a subpar defensive player with no natural position who can rake?  You find a way to shoehorn him into the lineup.  That's basically what the Yanks have done with Mustelier in the Minors since they first signed him before the 2011 season.  He doesn't have the skills to handle second or third base, even though he could probably fake third in a pinch, so he was used primarily in the outfield in 2012.  But on a team that was painfully rigid in their roster breakdown this past season, Mustelier could be a useful piece because of that bat.  Dude doesn't draw a ton of walks, but he makes a lot of contact and hits for good average and power.  At 28, he's way beyond the age limit for being considered a "prospect," but he could be a great fit for a club trying to build their bench on a budget.

Melky Mesa- OF

If it seems like Mesa has been around the Yankee farm system forever, it's because he has.  A lot of players have come and gone since he made his Rookie League debut in 2006, and Mesa found himself on the Yankee bench to end 2012 after going 20-20 across the top 2 MiL levels.  My conspiracy theory about Mesa taking Andruw Jones' roster spot didn't pan out this year, but that bench spot is one that still needs to be filled for 2013 and Mesa's skill set should make him a prime candidate if he has a strong spring.  He has power, speed, and plus defensive skills, all things that translate well to a 4th outfielder role, and like Mustelier he's getting a little long in the MiL tooth (turns 26 at the end of January).

Mark Montgomery- RP

Sooner or later I'm going to have to come up with a clever nickname and possibly a Photoshop for Montgomery, and by the looks of how quickly he's mowing through the Minors it will probably have to happen sooner.  Amongst the Yankee brass and coaching staff, it's probably already an unspoken agreement that Montgomery's name will be at the top of the list for bullpen reinforcement duty once the season starts.  If the rotation gets hit by injuries early, it also wouldn't surprise me to see Montgomery get bumped up to the 'pen to allow David Phelps to fill in for an injured starter.  Montgomery's stuff is just too good to waste in the Minors, and if he isn't pitching out of the Major League bullpen by the end of the summer I would be shocked.

Chase Whitley- RP

Whitley isn't nearly as sexy a prospect as Montgomery, and definitely hasn't gotten the coverage Montgomery has, but he's no slouch himself.  Whitley has advanced through the entire MiL system in less than 3 full seasons, putting up consistently good but not eye-popping numbers along the way, and will still be just 23 at the start of next season.  He was every effective in over 80 Triple-A innings this past season, striking out 66 batters to 25 BB and posting a 3.25/3.70 ERA/FIP slash, and his improving slider could turn into an effective out pitch to go with his assortment of fastballs.  He won't get any "next D-Rob" comparisons, but Whitley could definitely contribute some of those classic Yankee under-the-radar bullpen innings that help the team every year.

It wouldn't surprise me if the Yankees went with all veterans to open the season and none of these guys made the team out of camp, just because that's the Yankees' MO.  But the time for them to hold their younger players back is quickly coming to an end.  They're old, they're playing things cheap, and they need to find some diamonds in the rough to help build for the future.  There very well may end up being other MiL names who force themselves into consideration, possibly even The Mediocre Relief Pitcher Formerly Known as Dellin Betances, but if I were a betting man these are the names I'd put my money on for getting some run in 2013.

What about Austin Romine?

Perhaps the most shocking development so far this offseason was the failure to retain the services of Russell Martin. Martin hasn't exactly put our warm memories of Jorge Posada's bat to sleep, but he gave the Yankees two respectable seasons behind the dish. That's why it was surprising when the Pirates out bid the Yankees for his services. Seldom do the Bombers let their man walk. Martin wasn't going to be a Yankee for a decade, but it was worth it to keep him around for another year. There's no use crying over spilled milk. Martin is gone. Fortunately the Yankees are deepest in their farm system at Catcher. That's part of why the team was comfortable letting Jesus Montero go in trade. Gary Sanchez is just 20 years old, and his bat arguably has as much promise as Montero's. But Sanchez is a few seasons away. Is 2013 the season of Austin Romine?

Romine has never had the same hype as Sanchez or Montero because he's never shown the same promise with the stick. But of the three he's always shown the most raw potential as a backstop. He'll be just 24 years old next season and he may be just the ticket on a Yankee team looking to cut costs. Can he handle the responsibility?

Romine didn't show the Yankees much in 2011 when he got his first taste of the show. His batting line was just .158/.200/.158, which is as bad as it gets. But Romine has shown promise in the past. He's done his best work in AA, but in 17 games in AAA last season he managed an 89 wRC+. He could be on the cusp of breaking out, or he could be in the process of never panning out. The only way to tell will be if the Yankees give him a shot. My gut says that Austin will be under the microscope in spring training. Failing that, there's always Francisco Cervelli.