I leave for Tampa in eight days. Several players, including Derek Jeter, are already working out at the Yankees complex. Pitchers and catchers officially report next week. We’re almost there, everyone. Just hold tight a few more days! This is hardly a unique idea, but this seems to be a good time to take a daily look at the state of the Yankees, position by position. We’ll start behind the plate.
For the Yankees, there is no single position with more organizational depth than catcher. Four catchers made the Yankees top 8 prospects according to Baseball America, and likely big league backup Francisco Cervelli wasn’t one of them. Jorge Posada hit 22 home runs last year, Jesus Montero is one of the top hitters in the minor leagues and Gary Sanchez is very quickly opening eyes in the lower level. The state of the Yankees catchers is very good, and might be getting better.
Starter: Jorge Posada
Backup: Francisco Cervelli
Veteran insurance: Mike Rivera
Almost ready: Jesus Montero
Low rising: Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy
A quick snapshot of the organizational depth shows Montero one step away from the big leagues. What it doesn’t show is that Romine is only a step behind. It also doesn’t leave much room for names like P.J. Pilittere (upper-level depth) and Kyle Higashioka (more lower-level talent). Unless the Yankees make a late signing, Cervelli will go into spring training as a heavy favorite to open on the big league bench, while Rivera will provide experience in Triple-A. He could be useful if the Yankees need a short-term place-filler like Kevin Cash was last season.
Worst-case scenario: Pretty much every worst-case scenario involves Posada breaking down because of age and Montero taking a step back defensively. That said, Posada hit very well and stayed pretty healthy last year (except for that May breakdown). Montero seems to be improving, not declining, behind the plate. If something were to happen to Posada early in the year, the Yankees who would probably have to lean on Cervelli and Rivera (or a new addition) to get them through until Montero is ready for the big leagues. That wouldn’t inspire a lot of confidence.
Best-case scenario: Posada repeats last year’s numbers. Cervelli plays like Jose Molina, but with a better bat. Montero is screaming for a call-up by mid-June. Romine emerges as one of the top five catching prospects in baseball. Sanchez is compared to Montero, but Murphy is fighting him for playing time. With this many names and this much talent, the best-case scenario is pretty mouth watering.
The future: Posada is signed through 2011. He’ll certainly be the regular catcher this season, and how much time he gets at designated hitter in 2011 might depend on Montero’s development. By the time Posada’s contract expires, the Yankees could have both Montero and Romine ready to play every day at the big league level.
An attempt at the complete depth chart
An educated guess, but just a guess
New York: Jorge Posada, Francisco Cervelli
Scranton: Jesus Montero, Mike Rivera, P.J. Pilittere
Trenton: Austin Romine, Kyle Anson
Tampa: Mitch Abeita, Jose Gil
Charleston: Kyle Higashioka, (maybe Jeff Farnham, I actually have no idea)
Extended: Gary Sanchez, J.R. Murphy