New York Yankees 2013 Preview: John Flaherty on the Yankees' catching depth

03/27/2013 10:51 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

John Flaherty believes J.R. Murphy has put himself back on the map this spring.(AP)
As part of a four-part season preview series, the team caught up with many of the YES Network broadcasters during Spring Training to discuss 2013. In part one, Ken Singleton gave his thoughts on the Yankees’ outfield, and in part two, ex-catcher John Flaherty gives his thoughts on where the organization stands behind the plate – both now and in the future.

Barring a late surprise, the Yankees will go north with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart as their catchers, a tandem that had 142 at-bats last season – 141 of them from Stewart.

Manager Joe Girardi believes that the duo will be great defensively, and according to 14-year Major Leaguer John Flaherty, that starts with the impressive strides Cervelli has made this spring.

“I think it helps him; the type of player that Joe Girardi was, he was a catch-and-throw, work a staff, hit-and-run offensively type of player, and that’s what Cervelli is going to be,” Flaherty said. “I’ve always thought of him as a good receiver, he can block the ball, works a staff well, and his throwing has been on fire this spring.”

Cervelli may have the edge in true defensive prowess, but according to Flaherty, Chris Stewart also has one major positive attribute that Cervelli may still be working on.

“He’s all about the pitchers and he’s all about the team, so he’s a great guy to have on your ball club,” Flaherty said of Stewart. “If you’re a young pitcher, like Hughes, Nova or Phelps, a guy like Stewart behind the plate eliminates a lot of doubt on pitch selection. I think he’ll excel in that role.”

All that said, the offense Girardi gets out of his catchers will be a question mark, given that Stewart hit .241 with one home run and 13 RBI last year and Cervelli, a career .271 hitter in 490 MLB at-bats, hit .246-2-39 at Triple-A Scranton in 2012.

The Yankees lost Russell Martin and his 21 home runs in the offseason, but according to Flaherty, the Stewart/Cervelli tandem fits in perfectly with the 2013 Yankees’ bigger focus on small ball, especially the latter of the two.

“Offensively, we know what we’re going to get with Cervelli; he’s not going to hit for a lot of power but he seems to get the big hits, the RBI hits,” Flaherty said. “If he drives in 50 runs this year with what he’s doing behind the plate, Joe Girardi would probably be pretty happy with that.”

It’s very possible that Cervelli and Stewart will be in a time share of sorts, with no true No. 1 and matchups or pitching links determining who plays on a daily basis; once again, though, Flaherty believes the tandem is up to the task.

“I think what we’re probably going to see is that Girardi will put Stewart with a few of the starters and Cervelli with a few, and it makes it easier for the guys to mentally be ready,” Flaherty said. “Let’s say, for example, that Stewart and CC Sabathia will be hooked up all year long, If you’re Stewart, you do your homework on days CC’s not pitching; you look at matchups, you look at numbers, and it keeps you mentally sharp. And, I think it’s going to keep both guys fresh so you’ll get good numbers from both.”

That, in turn, will also help the pitchers according to Flaherty, who said he couldn’t overstate the importance of the rotation having success, especially early in the year.

“This year is going to be about the pitching staff, and Girardi is going to do whatever it takes to make those guys comfortable,” Flaherty said. “Stewart’s a guy who knows what his role is, and he’s not going to complain about a lack of playing time. He’s not going to complain that he’s not getting enough reps; as I said, he’s all about the pitchers.”

Should one of them struggle or get injured, the Yankees do have a deep system, with top prospect Austin Romine waiting at Triple-A. Romine and Minor League signee Bobby Wilson will likely make up Scranton’s catching tandem this year, and Flaherty said he personally hoped Romine would get more of a look this spring before being sent to Minor League camp.

“I’m disappointed he got sent out as early as he did in Spring Training, I thought he had a great opportunity to come in and open up some eyes, but that didn’t happen,” Flaherty said.

That said, Flaherty agreed with Brian Cashman’s thoughts that Romine’s development is best served with him in Triple-A right now, even if he does offer more offensive punch than Cervelli or Stewart.

“Most important for him, he’s got to go down to Triple-A and put a full season in, get off to a good start offensively, and gain some confidence,” Flaherty said. “When you talk about Cervelli and Stewart, Romine has the biggest upside offensively. He’s got some power and he can do the job behind the plate, but he’s got to play. He was injured much of last year, so he’s got to go down and get some games in.”

With that, Flaherty says Romine also has to keep in mind that because the organization is so deep behind the plate, he needs to not only stay on the field, but show he belongs.

“There better be (a clock ticking in Romine’s head); I think he’s at the point in his career where it’s going to go one way or the other, because the organization has a lot of great young catchers in the system,” Flaherty said. “Romine’s going to be the everyday guy at Triple-A, where he’s got to put up some numbers, and if his time doesn’t end up coming with the Yankees…maybe there’s a lot of value there, because everyone is always looking for catching. A guy who can catch and throw with a little bit of pop has a bright future, but the clock is ticking and he’s got to do it now.”

If the future isn’t Romine, it may very well be Gary Sanchez, who is ranked as one of the top two or three prospects in the system overall by almost every publication and has impressed “Flash” so far.

“Sanchez, we all know about his offensive game and that’s what we hear most about, but earlier in spring training, I was talking to Jorge Posada and he was impressed with Sanchez defensively, especially his throwing arm,” Flaherty said. “He’s working on his catching a little more, and he sounds like he could be the real deal. He’s a few years away, but if he can put the catching part of his game together, he can be real special.”

And, Flaherty says, there’s one guy to watch in between Sanchez and Romine who could get the call soon if things develop the right way.

“J.R. Murphy is a guy that’s getting a lot more recognition; he’s been in camp the last couple years, and you’re starting to hear his name a lot more than you used to, and rightfully so,” Flaherty said. “He’s got some power, and does a good job behind the plate.”

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