Saturday, March 2, 2013

Yankees 2013 Starting Catcher

It's hard to believe that we'd miss Russ and his .211 batting average.

When Russell Martin signed a 2 year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates a lot of Yankee fans figured Cashman had something up his sleeve. Sure, he said that the team had it's 2013 starting catcher in house, but how many fans actually believed him? I mean, this is the same guy that called signing Mark Teixeira a "pipe dream" not even a month before signing Mark Teixeira.

But alas, here we are on March 2nd with not a single rumor about a catcher being on the move, from free agency or trade. So it looks like the ninja was indeed telling the truth. So what are the options for the Bombers behind the plate?

First, there is Francisco Cervelli, who owns a career batting line of .271/.339/.353, and a wOBA of .311, in 562 MLB plate appearances. Not that Martin was anything great with the bat, as his triple-slash of .211/.311/.403 last season was cringe-worthy, but his 21 home runs made up some of the difference. Even if we take their defense into account, Martin's 30% caught stealing percentage looks much better than Cervelli's 20%. On top of that, some Yankee pitchers let it be known that they liked playing with Martin.

Chris Stewart played a lot more for the Yanks than Cervelli did last year (55 games to 3), so we knew Chris had a good chance at taking the starting gig on Opening Day 2013. But let's be honest here, we're talking about a guy with a career triple-slash of .217/.281/.302. And let's not pretend that this is a prospect that just needs a few more MLB at bats, either. Stewart turned 31 last month, and the last time he played in AAA (2011) he hit .221/.312/.274 in 33 games. To be fair, Stewart's caught stealing percentage is a bit higher than Cervelli's (34% to 20%), but does that make up for the significant downgrade with the bat (Stewart's career wOBA is .259, to Frankie's .311)?

It's hard to say what we should expect when it comes to Austin Romine, but it's not a whole hell of a lot. At one point Romine was quite the Yankee prospect, as he was the #2 Yankee prospect according to Baseball America before the 2010 season (behind some "Montero" kid). But after batting .268/.324/.402 with AA Trenton, along with battling a back injury, his ranking was dropped to #6 before the 2011 season. And finally he fell to #8 the following year. It's a shame that Romine didn't get more playing time in 2012, as he only appeared in 33 AAA games and 3 MLB games, but it's not like he did a lot with the at bats he did get (.243/.333/.408 in AAA, and 3-for-19 with no extra base hits and 5 strikeouts for the MLB Yankees). As for Austin's defense, VP of Baseball Operations Mark Newman told Chad Jennings that "[Romine's] a plus, plus defender … He can really play the position". It's hard to take that very seriously, since of course a Yankee executive is going to talk up a Yankee prospect (these are the same people that said Jesus Montero could be a MLB catcher), but many others outside the organization have said Austin is a pretty good backstop.

"Do you really think I'd lie to you about a prospect? Come on!"

So how are things looking? Well, you can't take a handful of Spring Training at bats with anything but a huge grain of salt, so I'm going to toss them out the window right away. Actually, other than health and a gut feeling after seeing them play a bit, I'm not sure there's much of anything you can take away from Spring Training when making this decision. But knowing how Joe Girardi feels about his defensive catchers it's clear to me that Francisco Cervelli is going to be receiving for CC Sabathia when the Yankees open the season against the Red Sox on April 1st.

If you haven't been watching the Yankees this pre-season, and seeing after seeing their 1-7 record so far I can't say I blame you, then you probably don't know that Francisco Cervelli has thrown out 5 of 6 runners trying to steal a base.

When the Yankees traded for Chris Stewart last season, and demoted Cervelli to AAA, it didn't go down well with the soon-to-be 27 year old. Frankie was in AAA, on the road day in and day out while a new stadium in Scranton was being built, and wasn't feeling very good about himself. Until his parents came to town and told him "Hey, you came here to the States to play baseball. That's what you like to do. Be a man." Cervie had a strong second half last season, and in winter ball worked on his throwing (a weakness he and Girardi targeted).

"Stop crying and play ball, you pansy!"

I can't say I'm looking forward to having Francisco as the team's primary catcher this coming season, but if guys like Hafner and Youkilis can stay healthy (a big "if") and keep the offense afloat, then I believe Mr. Cervelli is going to be okay.

By the way, I'd take Austin Romine over Chris Stewart as the backup catcher.  But since Stewart has no options remaining, and therefore can't be sent to AAA without going through waivers first, then we should fully expect Romine to be the regular backstop for the RailRiders.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)