J.R. Murphy: Murphy had a solid debut season with the Charleston RiverDogs last year, hitting .255 with seven home runs and doing so while really getting his first extended exposure behind the plate. He got better in all facets of the position defensively, especially receiving the ball, blocking balls in the dirt, and learning how to work with his pitchers.
He began playing some third base and some outfield at Instructs this offseason, however, and it remains to be seen if the Yankees plan on keeping him at catcher long-term, but the fact that he hit six of his seven home runs in the second-half of the season and in a pronounced pitcher's park is a good sign of some developing power. If he continues to get his development time at catcher, he has the opportunity to be a plus hitter with average to above average power potential at a traditional light-hitting position.
Gary Sanchez: Sanchez entered his professional debut season last year with the reputation of being a high-ceiling defensive player with a world of potential with the bat and he didn't do anything to dispute those claims last year. He hit a combined .329 with eight home runs and a whopping .936 OPS between the Gulf Coast League and Staten Island Yankees [he actually finished with the second highest batting average in Staten Island in limited at-bats] as a 17-year old.
Often compared to Jesus Montero offensively, his power potential actually might grade just a tick below, but his offensive approach is further along than Montero's at the same age. And defensively he's been compared to Austin Romine and that appears to be quite accurate. Like Romine, Sanchez has good athleticism, a very strong arm with accurate throws, and he's nimble around the plate. He has the highest two-way potential of any backstop in the organization.
Closest to the Majors
Jesus Montero: The offensive-minded Montero continues to rip through the minor leagues with the bat in stellar fashion, hitting a career-high 21 home runs at the Triple-A level last season. His .289 average a year ago was the first time he hit below .300 in the long-season leagues, but he showed an ability to make adjustments after he began the year hitting just .252 before the All Star break [he hit .351 in the second half].
With a career .314 average and a .511 slugging percentage, he has nothing left to prove offensively at the minor league level. Some critics believe he needs more seasoning defensively, but many scouts agree his biggest problem - his agility - isn't something that will be fixed down in the minors. He can man the position at the big league level now, but he will always be known more for his offense than his Posada-like defensive abilities.
Austin Romine: In an organization that has plus hitters like Jesus Montero and Gary Sanchez, in the irony of ironies, Romine, who is arguably the most ready two-way catcher in the organization right now, has actually become a 'sleeper' of sorts despite having a big ceiling of his own. He hit just .268 with the Trenton Thunder last year, in large part due to his .249 second-half average.
It's incredibly tough for some hitters to hit in Waterfront Park, however, a pronounced pitching-friendly park, and Romine is a classic example of that. He hit .313 on the road last season and just .221 at home so he not only has a lot more left with the bat, he really deserves a mulligan of sorts. He has a lot more offensive potential than his 2010 numbers suggest and he doesn't have a glaring weakness defensively. He is oh-so close to being big league ready right now.
Kyle Higashioka: You wouldn't know it by the career .238 average thus far, but Higashioka compares very favorably to Austin Romine on both sides of the ball and that allows him to be a big-time 'sleeper' not only in the Yankee organization but in all of baseball.
|DEFENSIVELY READY: Higashioka is a plus defensive player at a position that needs defense first. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Jhorge Liccien: Signed in 2008, the 6-foot-0, 175 pound Liccien gets buried in the catching-rich Yankee organization because he simply doesn't have the same offensive potential as nearly everyone else on this list. He has good enough bat control and strike zone judgment to be a decent hitter for average if he would learn to be more patient at the plate, but his power potential is below average.
While his limited offensive potential will most likely keep him on the outside looking in when it comes to long-term Yankee catching possibilities, the fact that he's a plus-plus, catch-and-throw guy does give him big league potential as a backup catcher. That might not cut it with the Yankees given their depth of quality two-way catchers, but it does give the organization a potential trade chip down the road if he continues to develop offensively.
Need to Make Their Move
Mitch Abeita: Abeita is the newest version of former Yankee catching prospect P.J. Pilittere in that he has the great makeup and solid overall defensive game to get pretty far, but lacks the presence of one plus physical tool to garner serious attention as one of the better prospects. He'll need to improve on his .250 career average and/or lack of power to stake any claim in that regard.
Francisco Arcia: Arcia, a switch-hitter with decent power and great leadership skills, is one of the more frustrating prospects in the organization. His solid overall game is more than enough to be mentioned in the same sentence potential-wise with a lot of these other names, but four years into his career has yet to prove it on the field. He's a potential breakout candidate, but he needs it real soon to keep getting his opportunities in Pinstripes.
Damian Taveras: Taveras falls into the Arcia class a a guy with a world of talent, especially with the bat, but who has yet to put it all together. He's had more tangible reasons [injuries, visa issues] for the lackluster numbers thus far, but time is running out for excuses. He needs to prove his plus bat potential very, very soon.
Jackson Valera: It's arguably unfair to put an 18-year old who has yet to make it to the United States in this category already, but the fact is Valera's development hasn't gone very far in his first two professional seasons. He has great plate discipline and some long-term power potential, but his defensive progress behind the dish has been slow going and that has affected his play in the batter's box. He really needs to have a mini-breakout year to get back into the legitimate prospect discussions.
The Jury is Still Out
Gian Carlos Arias: Like Valera, Arias was signed back in 2008 as a hit-first player with plus plate discipline who has yet to see any real results in the stats column. He has fought through some conditioning issues in his first two seasons and now the Yankees are trying him out at the catcher's position. He has the arm to play back there and he could theoretically be a real good offensive player at that position long-term, but the jury is still out as to whether or not either facet of his game will materialize. He gets slated here because he was just moved to catcher but he too needs to make his mark [at least with the bat] very soon.