It’s hard to believe, but Spring Training is approximately one month away. The weather is still frigid in the New York region, but when the Yankees report to sunny Tampa, we’ll have a lot more baseball to discuss now that the hot stove season is behind us. As we approach the club’s report date, we’ll take a look at the organization’s depth at each position. This exercise will essentially provide a preview of the 2015 roster, injury contingencies, and an overview of some prospect hopefuls. Today, we start at catcher.
Starter: Brian McCann
McCann’s under contract for the next four seasons, so don’t expect him to be displaced anytime soon. The most likely scenario for another backstop to take the reigns would be a shift to first base after Mark Teixeira‘s contract expires, but that might not even be necessary, as I addressed in a separate piece about McCann’s future. Definitely take a look at that post if you’re interested in an in-depth discussion of McCann’s outlook. Turning 31 next month, he’s still an above average starting catcher, despite his disappointing first year with the Yankees. Both Steamer and the FANS projection systems see a rebound in 2015, at 3.2 and 3.7 WAR respectively. Sign me up for that today.
Backup: John Ryan Murphy
Now that Francisco Cervelli has been sent packing to Pittsburgh, the backup role is almost certainly Murphy’s. There could be a “competition” with Austin Romine during Spring Training, but it’s hard to imagine anything but an injury preventing Murphy from winning the job. John Ryan’s bat is acceptable and his defensive reputation is well-regarded, making him a very good option to spell McCann. Plus, after spending decent chunks of the past two seasons at Triple-A, there’s probably not too much more for him to learn at that level compared to shadowing the veteran McCann.
On the fringe: Austin Romine
Romine’s the third guy on the depth chart entering Spring Training, but that doesn’t mean he’s ticketed to Triple-A after camp. He’s out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers. Odds are that Romine is with a new organization by the end of March (via trade or waivers), assuming that McCann and/or Murphy get through camp unscathed.
The future: John Ryan Murphy, Gary Sanchez
Murphy fits this category, too. He’s just about ready for a starting opportunity in the big leagues, but McCann has him blocked for the next couple of seasons at minimum. Murphy might instead wind up as trade bait, particularly if he outperforms his current role. That, or someone like Gary Sanchez pushes him out of the way.
Sanchez has put up some solid but not spectacular numbers as a backstop in the past couple of minor league seasons. Nonetheless, scouts are still high on his bat. Baseball America ($) thinks he could “hit .280 with 20-25 home runs” at his peak. His defense is questionable, although his arm has drawn rave reviews. The Yankees seem to have a good reputation of grooming defensive catchers, so maybe there’s some untapped potential for Sanchez. Aside from his glovework, another concern is his makeup: he was benched for a short time last summer. There’s no question that Sanchez has the tools to succeed, rather, the debate is whether or not he can bring it all together.
KATOH, Chris’ prospect projection system, isn’t as kind as scouts are to Sanchez. Based on his season with Double-A Trenton in 2014, he’s got a 74% likelihood to reach the majors — which is good — but he’s forecast to produce just 3.1 WAR through age 28 (he just turned 22). Sanchez is in line to be the starter in Triple-A, where the Yankees might let him play out the full season because of McCann and Murphy impeding his path. A September call-up is plausible, but he probably won’t have a chance to force the issue until 2016.
Farther away: Luis Torrens
Only 18 years-old, Torrens spent most of his time with Short-Season Staten Island last year, with a cameo at Single-A Charleston. He’s probably four or five seasons away from the Bronx at this point, but he’s certainly on the prospect radar garnering the ninth spot on Baseball America’s top 10 Yankees prospects. His inclusion on the list shouldn’t be a surprise, as he was one of the Yankees’ prizes (for a $1.3M bonus) in the 2012 international signing period. He hit well with Staten Island (115 wRC+), but it was his defense that garnered positive feedback. KATOH doesn’t have any grand proclamations about Torrens, perhaps because he is still so low on the minor league ladder. Nonetheless, his 3.4 WAR projection through age 28 puts him right in line with Sanchez’ outlook. A lot can happen between A-ball and the majors, but Torrens has justified his insertion into the catcher of the future debate.