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Yankees organizational depth: Catcher

Posted By Chad Jennings On January 16, 2012 @ 6:48 pm In Misc | 361 Comments

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With spring training roughly a month away — a little more than a month, but who’s counting — I thought this might be a good time to start looking at the organization position-by-position. What do the Yankees have at the moment, what might they have in the future and who’s worth watching this season. We’ll start behind the plate, where the Yankees are still deep even after trading their top young hitter.

[3]In the big leagues
Last year was one of transition behind the plate, with Jorge Posada shifting into the background while Russell Martin took the job. Twelve months ago, it was unclear whether Martin was a one-year bridge or a long-term solution, and his future is still a little cloudy. Obviously he’s coming back for another season — the organization loved his leadership and his defense, and he added some bottom-of-the-order power — but it’s still unclear whether the Yankees see Martin as a catcher who might stick around for a few years. He could be holding the spot for Austin Romine, or he could be carrying the torch well into the middle of this decade. With Jesus Montero gone, there might be more desire to keep Martin long-term. Francisco Cervelli appears to be the favorite to return as the Yankees backup.

[4]On the verge
Even before the trade, Montero had clearly graduated. After an impressive late-season call-up, Montero was ready for the big leagues, with his long-term future behind the plate still unclear. With Montero gone, the immediate depth behind the plate clearly hinges on Romine. He got an unexpected call-up late last season when injuries left the Yankees thin behind the plate. After back-t0-back seasons in Double-A, there is finally an opening in Triple-A, and Romine seems ticketed for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (unless he really wows the Yankees in big league camp and wins a big league job). Gustavo Molina is back to provide additional veteran depth at catcher, but this position is all about the young guys.

[5]Deep in the system 
The Yankees were already extremely deep at catcher, and that was before a couple of teenagers popped onto the radar. Coming up after Romine, the Yankees have J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez. Both were in A-ball last year, and there’s a chance Murphy could get to Double-A this season. Sanchez is the bigger prospect of the two, and probably the most likely to stay behind the plate. He has a long way to go, but his upside is substantial. Murphy has a big bat, and the Yankees have looked at him at third base and the outfield corners. The Yankees have said he’ll primarily catch this season. At the lowest levels of the system, fifth-round pick Greg Bird has a strong bat but questionable glove, and Dominican Isaias Tejeda put up big numbers in U.S. debut. Neither is a sure thing, especially at catcher, but they’re intriguing depth behind the bigger names in the system.

Organizational depth chart
My rough guess. It’s too early for the Yankees to decide who will be where next season.
New York: Russell Martin
Scranton/WB: Austin Romine
Trenton: Jose Gil
Tampa: J.R. Murphy
Charleston: Gary Sanchez

The Staten Island catchers didn’t really stand out last season, and my guess is both Bird and Tejeda will open in extended spring training before going to either Staten Island or the Gulf Coast League. Sanchez could move up to Tampa, but he played only 82 games last year and another couple of months in Charleston probably wouldn’t hurt him (he’s still very young). The Yankees top catcher the Yankees drafted in 2010 — Tyler Austin — has already been converted to the infield corners. Kyle Higashioka factors into this picture somewhere — maybe with Murphy in Tampa — but he hasn’t done much with the bat and might have to play his way back into a regular role behind the plate.

Associated Press photo of Martin, headshots of Cervelli, Romine and Sanchez

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