For Austin Romine, opportunity has presented itself. He got a taste of the big leagues in 2011 — four starts — but Francisco Cervelli’s broken hand opens significant playing time for next six weeks or so. How much of that playing time goes to Romine depends on how well he plays.
“Anytime you get any type of time, you have to show them what you can do,” Romine said. “I’m going to take whatever time I do have here, and I’m going to show them that I can do it. I can handle it back there, I can handle pitching staff and I can swing it at the plate.”
The video above is manager Joe Girardi talking about the way he’ll handle Romine’s playing time. Spoiler alert: It’s all about his production. As you can imagine, there’s some curiosity. Romine has been on the radar for a few years now, but this will be the team’s first extended look at its most advanced catching prospect.
BEHIND THE PLATE
The Yankees have always liked Romine’s glove, but it struck me this winter that they seemed extremely excited about his defensive work in the Arizona Fall League. The organization believes Romine can catch, but it’s telling that, when he showed up on Saturday, Romine was sent immediately to the bullpen to catch Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda’s sides.
“I don’t want to throw too much at him too quickly,” Girardi said. “I want him to get familiar with the guys that are here. He has a sense of who they are. He’s had a chance to catch all of them at some point in spring training, whether it was a side or a game in the minor leagues, but you want him to be familiar with the guys.”
Romine doesn’t have a ton of experience catching any of these guys. But they aren’t total strangers either.
“In spring training, you’ve got to take that seriously because of situations like this,” Romine said. “What pitcher throws what, where they miss, what they like to throw, where they do well. So, if a guy’s coming out of the pen in the sixth or seventh, it’s not a new experience. It just makes the relationship flow better. … I’m looking forward to getting with the pitchers, getting that relationship going again, and catching some of the guys I haven’t caught before.”
AT THE PLATE
When Romine and Jesus Montero were both in the Yankees minor league system, Montero was the guy who could hit and Romine was the guy who could catch. The question was whether either one could do a little of both. Actually, that’s still the question.
“I thought (Romine) could catch in the big leagues in 2011,” Girardi said, “which would tell me that, just because he had almost a year off, I don’t think he’s going to lose that skill. But offensively, we have to see where he’s at.”
He was in a pretty good place down in Triple-A. Romine was hitting .333/.391/.405. A home run was his only extra-base hit, but obviously Romine was getting on base at a pretty good clip.
“I’ve been working with (hitting coach) Butch Wynegar in Triple-A,” Romine said. “We got rid of the leg kick — getting the foot down early, seeing the ball — and that’s really what I’ve been working on lately. Seeing the ball, and now it’s a matter of doing it. … It was just the leg kick was way too inconsistent, and now with just the toe tap, I’m able to see the ball and allowing my hands to move a little more freely. I’m barreling up a lot more balls than I’m used to.”
For Romine, a lot of this begins with his health. He has to play in order to play well, but back injuries are tricky. When Romine was sidelined last spring, it seemed like a short-term thing. Then it cost him the rest of spring training. Then he wasn’t ready to open the season. Then was on the DL most of the year.
“It’s unfortunate that he went through what he went through last year,” Girardi said. “But hopefully that’s something that he can manage and he doesn’t have to deal with that on a daily basis.”
Romine says he’s found a way to manage the back and stay healthy. This spring, he was healthy the whole time, and he’s stayed that way through the first few weeks of the season. He seems to think the back injury is behind him.
“It’s fixed now,” Romine said. “It’s completely healthy, and that’s because of a routine I developed with physical therapists and the Yankees medical staff. It’s really working for me and keeping me strong. It takes me about 35, 40 minutes to do every day, and it’s just become part of my routine. I really don’t even notice it anymore.”