Sunday, April 5, 2015

How Have Recent Yankees Catching Prospects Fared?

Shortly after the retirement of Jorge Posada following the 2011 season, most Yankees fans felt that it was just a matter of time before the team promoted its next star catcher to the big leagues. In the preceding few years, the Yanks had drafted or signed future studs Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Chase Weems, John Ryan Murphy, and Gary Sanchez. People even had arguments about which of the prospects would eventually have to move from behind the plate because of the glut of options. As a fan, I was extremely excited, like a pilgrim to Sutter's Mill in the mid-1800s. Certainly, at least a couple of the Yankees' catching prospects would pan out.

In 2011, both Romine and Jesus Montero made Baseball America's list of Top 100 prospects. Montero trailed only (this hurts to type) Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in those rankings. In this 2011 article, MLB.com said Romine "wields a big league pedigree" and referred to Montero as "a touted power hitter." So what's happened since then? At the end of the '11 season, Montero hit .328 and knocked in 28 runs in just 18 games in the majors, giving me a massive prospection.* However, in the 2012 offseason, the Yankees traded Montero to the Mariners, in part because they had Romine waiting in Triple-A. With the M's, Montero has suffered a series of disappoinments, including a PED suspension and culminating in his drastic decision to drop 40 pounds this offseason. It's been a dramatic fall for the guy who we once compared to Harper and Trout.

*A prospect erection.

Romine, meanwhile, stayed with the Yankees for much longer, but he has had about the same amount of success as Montero. Despite appearing on the Baseball America's list of Top 10 Yankees prospects in four straight years, his talent never translated to the big leagues. Romine kept his neck just above the Mendoza Line in parts of three seasons as one of the team's backup catchers. On Saturday, the Yankees designated Romine for assignment, possibly severing the team's ties to the 26-year-old catcher. That transaction was the impetus for this post as it reminded me of the Generation K-like trajectory of the Yankees' former surplus of catching riches.

So who's left of the post-Posada crop of backstops? Weems, the team's sixth-round pick in 2007 who's now 26, totally flamed out. John Ryan Murphy, a 2009 second-round pick, will take over for Romine as the Yankees' backup catcher. But he now projects as just that -- a backup. He's still just 23, so we can at least hold out hope.

Meanwhile, Baseball America's No. 2 Yankees prospect way back in 2010 -- trailing just Montero -- was Gary Sanchez. Sanchez seems to be the last chance for the Yanks to develop a star homegrown backstop, but his stock is going in the same direction as the rest of the organization's catching commodities. Sanchez was the No. 35 prospect in baseball in the '14 offseason, but now he's fallen off the Top 100 list completely. He's now just the fifth-rated prospect in the Yankees system. With each passing year, Sanchez's once limitless potential seems a little more limited. Although he's still just 22, this season will be a big indicator of whether Sanchez will succeed Brian McCann as the Yankees catcher.

Gary Sanchez (Photo via riveravenueblues.com)
On the flip-side, the Yankees were able to trade Montero for Michael Pineda a few season ago. While Pineda has faced his share of tribulations, both unfortunate and self-inflicted, he looks poised for a great season this year. When the Yankees acquired him, Pineda was coming off a 171-inning season with the Mariners in which he pitched better than league average, making him much more of a known commodity than Montero. In hindsight, that trade was a good move for the Yankees.

Still, to recap, out of the Yankees' top five catching prospects of the last half-decade, one might work out. Examining the current situations of players like Montero, Romine, and Sanchez shows just how much of a crapshoot prospect-hunting really is. Depending on the fate of Sanchez, the Yankees' catching boomtown is on the verge of turning into a veritable ghost town.



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