April 2013 Prospect Profile: Catchers

04/30/2013 9:32 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

J.R. Murphy is in his first full season in Trenton, but may not be there much longer.(Mike Ashmore)
For many years, the Yankees have been noted for their catching depth in the Minor Leagues, and the talent they have is evident at almost every level. The organization’s top overall prospect according to many rankings, Gary Sanchez, is the backstop at Class-A Advanced Tampa, with highly-touted J.R. Murphy one step above at Double-A Trenton and Austin Romine, who came up through the system with since-traded Jesus Montero as the first wave of “potential catchers of the future,” currently at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

All three of those players spent part of spring in Major League camp with the Yankees, and YES Network analyst John Flaherty said that while all three are still young with bright futures, the simple fact that Romine is at the top of the cusp means that the onus is on him to prove that his time is now.

“(Romine) has to go down to Triple-A and put a full season in, get off to a good start offensively, and gain some confidence, but the better be a clock ticking in his 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.

On Opening Day for the RailRiders, Romine reiterated Flaherty’s words, knowing that because of his injury history, he has to show the Yankees organization what he can do for a full year in Scranton to earn his way back to that “catcher of the future” mantle.

“Every season you want to win, but my ultimate goal is to prove my game here; I need to play every day and show what I can do both with the bat and in handling a staff and calling a good game – show them I can be the everyday guy,” Romine said.

His Major League debut is behind him, having come in 2011, but Romine missed most of 2012 while dealing with a back injury. The son of ex-Major Leaguer Kevin Romine says that’s all cleared up, and he learned a lot while in camp this year that he can use to propel himself to that level going forward.

“I saw how consistent the veterans are; they go out there every day and play at a high caliber, and it shows what you need to do to get there and stay there,” Romine said. “Playing for the Yankees has always been a dream of mine. It’s a prestigious organization and to be able to put on the pinstripes, down here or up there, and say you’re a Yankee is an honor. They’ve given me so much and helped me to where I am, so I’m excited to give back to them.”

Murphy and Sanchez are the second wave of that “catcher of the future” pool, although Murphy has been an organizational level ahead of Sanchez for most of the way. A Florida State League All-Star last year, Murphy was promoted to Trenton around the same time Sanchez moved up from Charleston to Tampa, and after helping the Thunder advance to the Eastern League Championship Series last fall, he’s excited to be part of a Trenton team with a different vibe in 2013.

“It’s definitely a different feel than last year. We’re a lot younger but we mesh well and we’ve played together for a while, so we all get along,” Murphy said. “The clubhouse is great and the bus rides are fun, everyone knows their role and we have a chance to do something special here.”

This year, he’s handling a pitching staff consisting mostly of guys he caught in Tampa for the first half of last year, and to Murphy, that’s an advantage that can help any young backstop’s development tremendously.

“I’ve caught these guys for two or in some cases three years now, and knowing your guys and building relationships with them makes it a lot easier when you’re going over scouting reports,” Murphy said. “I know their tendencies, so I don’t have to focus on learning them as much as handling them.”

And, like Romine, Murphy has learned some valuable lessons in his trips to Major League Spring Training that he can use as he tries to become the man and advances through the system.

“My locker was next to Bobby Wilson’s this year so I got to talk to him the most, but those guys were all great, and I was trying to keep my mouth shut and my ears open, so to speak,” Murphy said. “They were in a competition, but they knew that the best player was going to get the job and they’re all professionals, so they went about their business the right way.”

Sanchez is of course right behind him, but so is Francisco Arcia, who is Sanchez’s backup in Tampa right now. Arcia was a South Atlantic League All-Star while serving that same role in Charleston in the first half of 2012 and ended up as the everyday guy when Sanchez moved up, and like the rest, he said that his goals for 2013 are to “have a better year than last year and keep moving up.”

Arcia also spent some time in Major League camp this year, calling it a great experience, and said that even in competition, he and Sanchez are the best of friends who always push and support each other. Whether they continue to do that up to Trenton and beyond remains to be seen, and of course it also depends on how Romine, Murphy, and the guys behind them perform as well.

All that said, Murphy, for one, knows that the only player you need to worry about is yourself, because that’s the only one you really can worry about.

“You know who the guys are in the organization and where you stand, but that being said, you can only control yourself,” Murphy said. “I have to control what I can control, which is coming out and doing my best every day, and the rest will take care of itself.”

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