Yankees vs. Red Sox: Catching Prospects

Comparing what the Yankees and Red Sox have at each position in the minor leagues, we take a look at the crop of catcher prospects in each system. Which system is deeper? Which prospects have the most power? The highest ceilings? Take a look at this comparison between the two AL East farm systems.

The Two Farm Systems: The promotion of Boston's Ryan Lavarnway to the big leagues gives the Red Sox a dearth of legitimate long-term catching depth at the current time playing States-side [Venezuelan native Aixon Suarez should be a solid prospect once he comes over from the Dominican Summer League, but doesn't qualify for this comparison of the farm system catching depth until he does].

Boston's top two catching prospects right now are switching-hitting Blake Swihart and right-handed hitting Christian Vazquez, the latter of which is the only one with any at-bats above the A-ball level. Swihart, last year's first round pick, had a solid debut season with low-A Greenville, hitting .262 with seven home runs for the Drive. He was also solid defensively for a first-year catcher at the pro level, but both sides of his game have a lot more room for growth, especially offensively.

Vazquez is arguably the best all-around catching prospect for the Sox right now, showing above average defensive abilities with his throwing, receiving, and blocking, and chipping in with a solid all-around offensive game too. He hit a combined .254 with seven home runs between high-A Salem and Double-A Portland in 2012, showing solid patience and pitch selection at the dish.

Outside of those two, however, Boston has a pair of backstops with some long-term questions as to whether or not they could project as everyday big league catchers someday. Dan Butler, at 26-years old and the only one with Triple-A experience, shows the kind of plate discipline to be a good hitter but has yet to hit above .247 at the higher minor league levels. Still, a little Vazquez-like with his solid all-around game, he should carve himself a nice role as a big league backup catcher.

Jordan Weems, the other half of Swihart's catching tandem in Greenville this past season, hit just .201 with no home runs in his first taste of the long-season leagues. He has some patience at the plate and the kind of body that could fill out and develop some power in the coming years, but the latter is more of a wait and see aspect of his game at this point. There's some upside here but there are also significant question marks.

The Yankees clearly have more depth up and down the farm system, especially from the high-A level all the way to Triple-A. Austin Romine is big league ready in nearly every way, especially defensively, but a nagging back injury limited to a little more than 100 at-bats at Triple-A in 2012. He has some hidden offensive talent too but he has to get on the field long enough to continue developing his bat

J.R. Murphy, a second round pick back in 2009, made his way to the Double-A level in 2012 and batted a combined .248 between Trenton and high-A Tampa with 26 doubles and nine home runs. The rather low average is a little misleading, however, because he shows great plate discipline, the type that should allow the 21-year old to continue to improve offensively. Defensively, he has slowly become an above average player too in every facet behind the plate. He represents the biggest 'sleeper' prospect in either organization at the catcher's spot.

Gary Sanchez on the other hand is no doubt the best long-term catching prospect in either organization, mostly because of his immense offensive ceiling. He hit a combined .290 between two-A ball levels in 2012 with 18 home runs. National pundits aren't sold on his defensive abilities despite the fact that he has become an average receiver, a plus thrower, and has really become more of an on the field leader over the past year. He is a solid defensive catcher with plus hitting ability.

The Yankees don't just have a decidedly big advantage in upper-level catching depth either. They also have a few more 'what if' options at the lower levels, highlighted by 2012 second round pick Peter O'Brien. His plus power potential is right up there with Sanchez and nobody rivals his pure arm strength either, but he does have a lot of work to do refining the other areas of his game. There are some questions whether he can have the necessary agility needed to stick at the position long-term given his Matt Wieters-esque size, but more than anything he needs to work on his offensive approach by becoming a better and more selective hitter, and letting his natural power take over.

Chris Breen, the Yankees' 12th round pick out of high school this year, falls into the O'Brien category too. He looked solid, however, defensively behind the plate in the Gulf Coast League but was moved to the outfield to make better use of his high offensive potential. It remains to be seen if the move is permanent though and he gives the Yankees another intriguing catching option should he be moved back behind the plate.

The Yankees have some other catching prospects that have some long-term promise with an equal amount of question marks too. Kyle Higashioka is arguably the best defensive catcher in either organization and he shows good plate discipline and power to boot, but the numbers [.170 average in 2012 and .231 in 2011] have been brutal, so much so that he's running out of chances. Isaias Tejeda is not anywhere close to the defensive player Higashioka is, known more for his bat, but he hit below the Mendoza line in 2012 for short-season Staten Island.

How Do They Compare In...

Power: Losing Lavarnway to the big leagues pushes this category way in favor of the Yankees, an advantage they still would have had anyway even without that. While Swihart should be a solid average to above average power hitter in due time, it's just not enough to compare with the likes of Sanchez and O'Brien, not to mention the average to above average power potential of Murphy and even Romine. If Breen moves back, the advantage is really unfair. Advantage: Yankees

Hitting For Average: Few scouts question Swihart's ability to be a plus hitter someday and both Vazquez and Butler give the Red Sox two disciplined hitters who should hit for higher averages down the road, but the Yankees have a little too much here with Sanchez, Murphy, and especially if Chris Breen moves back behind the plate. Advantage: Yankees

Defense: Vazquez and Butler are defensively advanced enough to hold their own with Romine and Murphy, and Swihart's long-term defensive abilities are not far behind that of Sanchez either. This comparison therefore comes down to the lower levels and there isn't a big advantage either way, and it's really the case overall if Higashioka doesn't start hitting soon. Advantage: Even.

Speed: Sanchez's 16 stolen bases in 2012 would appear to give the Yankees an edge here but when it comes down to natural speed there is no real discernible difference between the two organizations in this department. Advantage: Even.

Overall Potential: With Swihart really the only catching prospect in the Boston organization with the ceiling that of a difference-making offensive player at the catching position, a ceiling that is notably a notch below that of Gary Sanchez, the Red Sox just can't compare here depth-wise. Vazquez is the only other Boston backstop who projects to be an average everyday big league starting catcher and the Yankees combat that with Romine and Murphy. Advantage: Yankees.

Highest Ceilings: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Peter O'Brien (Yankees), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Austin Romine (Yankees)

Best Power: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Peter O'Brien (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Red Sox)

Best Average: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Yankees), Austin Romine (Yankees)

Best Defense: Austin Romine (Yankees), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Red Sox), Dan Butler (Red Sox), Blake Swihart (Red Sox)

Best Speed: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Austin Romine (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Jordan Weems (Red Sox).

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