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 one constant between the two farm systems is the presence of many current catchers who still relatively have some question marks as to whether or not they will stick at the position long-term.

Boston's top two catching prospects, Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Swihart, have such question marks but for different reasons. There's no doubt that Lavarnway can hit and hit for power, clubbing 34 home runs over three levels in 2011, but he has some real defensive limitations behind the plate, including below average agility, average blocking skills, merely decent at best receiving skills, and like former Yankees' top catching prospect Jesus Montero he projects better as a designated hitter.

Like Lavarnway, the soon to be 20-year old Swihart projects to be an impact offensive player. He doesn't have quite the same power as Lavarnway, but the switch-hitter could be a special hitter for average. Like Lavarnway the arm strength is good but he at least offers better overall athleticism that could allow him to play another position like third base and that leads to the question if the Sox would want to better preserve his bat at another position.

Two of the top Yankees' catching prospects also have some long-term defensive question marks in the form of Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. Both players project to hit for outstanding power long-term and should hit for high averages as well, but they're both so young to the catching game that how they round into defensive form are wait and see propositions for now. Sanchez surely has the athleticism to remain at the position, showing good agility and a very strong arm behind the plate, but he needs to refine the other areas of his game.

Bird, who is essentially in the same position as Boston's Swihart as he's just starting his pro career, doesn't have quite the same degree as athleticism as Swihart behind the plate, but offensively could be just as good if not better long-term because he has a bit more power.

Perhaps the most underrated catching prospect not only in either farm system but perhaps in all of baseball is Boston's Christian Vazquez. Arguably the Red Sox best all-around catcher, Vazquez is a plus defensive catcher in nearly every way, shows good 'now' power [although his smaller stature does limit his power projection down the road], and shows a good approach at the plate. He has very few weaknesses in his game.

The same can be said for a pair of Yankees' backstops in Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy. Romine in particular is one of the better defensive catchers in either farm system, shows very good plate discipline, and while he has yet to hit for good power thus far he does have average to potentially above average long-term power potential. He is still just 23 years old and has already reached the big leagues.

Like Boston's Vazquez, Murphy is vastly underrated on the national scene. Perhaps boasting the best plate discipline of any catching prospect in either organization, he projects to be a high-average hitter and he has a bit more power than folks realize. While he is not yet the defensive equal of Romine or Vazquez, he is not very far behind and he is quickly closing the gap. It's his innate leadership skills and tremendous makeup, his superior mental edge, that brings the whole package together.

Each organization has a 'tweener' right now at the catcher's position, great defensive catchers who show quality big league power but don't quite offer the sky-high ceilings others offer offensively. Boston's Dan Butler hit 25 doubles and 12 home runs in 381 at-bats spread over three different levels in 2011, and Triple-A tested, the 25-year old could be a quality backup catcher for the Sox.

Kyle Higashioka of the Yankees could play defensively in the big leagues right now despite having just A-ball experience thus far. And like Butler he shows good power, exceptional plate discipline, but his biggest problem has been consistently getting his batting averages up to a respectable level. Everything suggests he could be a high-average hitter given his power and superb strike zone judgement, he just has to prove it on the field. There's some upside here.

Each farm system has a wild card at the catcher's position that will take some time to develop. Boston's Jordan Weems is a tall, lean catcher and has a pretty good swing from the left side. He has a lot of room to fill out too and that will be the tell-tale sign in how far his power develops.

The Yankees' Isaias Tejeda, a Dominican native, was originally a third baseman who is only now learning the ropes behind the plate. But offensively, he has a lot of talent. He hit .331 with six home runs and posted a .971 OPS for the Gulf Coast League Yankees last year, and his bat will afford him a lot of time to allow his defensive game to catch up.

How Do They Compare In...

Power: New York trading away Jesus Montero makes this a closer race than it was at the start of the offseason. Where Lavarnway winds up position-wise will have a lot to say in the comparison of the farm systems at this position and in this category. If he winds up a designated hitter as most scouts tend to believe, it gives the Red Sox an unfair advantage in the power department but for now he's a catcher. Even though the likes of Vazquez, Swihart and Weems offer some long-term potential, it's tough for Boston to compete with the great depth the Yankees still have power-wise with Sanchez, Bird, Murphy, Romine, Tejeda, and even Higashioka. The Yankees still have a small edge here. Advantage: Yankees

Hitting For Average: While Christian Vazquez doesn't make the top five in this category, he's oh-so close. Throw in Swihart's immense upside with the bat and the current hitting ability of Larvarnway, the Red Sox once again make this a closer race than it was before Montero was dealt. But with Murphy, Sanchez, Bird, Romine, and Tejeda, it's just a bit too much depth in the Yankees favor right now. Advantage: Yankees

Defense: Both Boston's Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler are really good defensively. In fact they're better than folks realize, but it's tough to compete depth-wise to compete with the big league catching abilities of Romine, Murphy, and Higashioka. If Swihart sticks at catcher this will be a dead-even heat, but then again the same could be said of New York's Sanchez and Bird. Advantage: Yankees.

Speed: Catchers are not impact runners most of the time, but both systems have some athleticism in their backstops that could prove to be decent runners. Advantage: Even.

Overall Potential: Neither farm system has that rock-solid, sure bet all-around great catching prospect that is close to big league ready. Austin Romine is clearly the best in that regard and his power, while having some long-term potential, needs to show up more consistently in games. Larvarnway is obviously the most talented big league ready hitter right now but again he has some real defensive limitations. Beyond those two it comes down to minor league depth and quite frankly, as special as Swihart could wind up being for Boston, it's not enough to offset the depth of Sanchez, Bird, Murphy, and even Tejeda. Advantage: Yankees.

Highest Ceilings: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Greg Bird (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox), Austin Romine (Yankees)

Best Power: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox), Greg Bird (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Red Sox), Blake Swihart (Red Sox)

Best Average: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Greg Bird (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox)

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

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

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\r\n \r\n\r\nThe Two Farm Systems: The one constant between the two farm systems is the presence of many current catchers who still relatively have some question marks as to whether or not they will stick at the position long-term.
\r\n
\r\nBoston's top two catching prospects, Ryan Lavarnway and Blake Swihart, have such question marks but for different reasons. There's no doubt that Lavarnway can hit and hit for power, clubbing 34 home runs over three levels in 2011, but he has some real defensive limitations behind the plate, including below average agility, average blocking skills, merely decent at best receiving skills, and like former Yankees' top catching prospect Jesus Montero he projects better as a designated hitter.
\r\n
\r\nLike Lavarnway, the soon to be 20-year old Swihart projects to be an impact offensive player. He doesn't have quite the same power as Lavarnway, but the switch-hitter could be a special hitter for average. Like Lavarnway the arm strength is good but he at least offers better overall athleticism that could allow him to play another position like third base and that leads to the question if the Sox would want to better preserve his bat at another position.
\r\n
\r\nTwo of the top Yankees' catching prospects also have some long-term defensive question marks in the form of Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird. Both players project to hit for outstanding power long-term and should hit for high averages as well, but they're both so young to the catching game that how they round into defensive form are wait and see propositions for now. Sanchez surely has the athleticism to remain at the position, showing good agility and a very strong arm behind the plate, but he needs to refine the other areas of his game.
\r\n
\r\nBird, who is essentially in the same position as Boston's Swihart as he's just starting his pro career, doesn't have quite the same degree as athleticism as Swihart behind the plate, but offensively could be just as good if not better long-term because he has a bit more power.
\r\n
\r\nPerhaps the most underrated catching prospect not only in either farm system but perhaps in all of baseball is Boston's Christian Vazquez. Arguably the Red Sox best all-around catcher, Vazquez is a plus defensive catcher in nearly every way, shows good 'now' power [although his smaller stature does limit his power projection down the road], and shows a good approach at the plate. He has very few weaknesses in his game.
\r\n
\r\nThe same can be said for a pair of Yankees' backstops in Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy. Romine in particular is one of the better defensive catchers in either farm system, shows very good plate discipline, and while he has yet to hit for good power thus far he does have average to potentially above average long-term power potential. He is still just 23 years old and has already reached the big leagues.
\r\n
\r\nLike Boston's Vazquez, Murphy is vastly underrated on the national scene. Perhaps boasting the best plate discipline of any catching prospect in either organization, he projects to be a high-average hitter and he has a bit more power than folks realize. While he is not yet the defensive equal of Romine or Vazquez, he is not very far behind and he is quickly closing the gap. It's his innate leadership skills and tremendous makeup, his superior mental edge, that brings the whole package together.
\r\n
\r\nEach organization has a 'tweener' right now at the catcher's position, great defensive catchers who show quality big league power but don't quite offer the sky-high ceilings others offer offensively. Boston's Dan Butler hit 25 doubles and 12 home runs in 381 at-bats spread over three different levels in 2011, and Triple-A tested, the 25-year old could be a quality backup catcher for the Sox.
\r\n
\r\nKyle Higashioka of the Yankees could play defensively in the big leagues right now despite having just A-ball experience thus far. And like Butler he shows good power, exceptional plate discipline, but his biggest problem has been consistently getting his batting averages up to a respectable level. Everything suggests he could be a high-average hitter given his power and superb strike zone judgement, he just has to prove it on the field. There's some upside here.
\r\n
\r\nEach farm system has a wild card at the catcher's position that will take some time to develop. Boston's Jordan Weems is a tall, lean catcher and has a pretty good swing from the left side. He has a lot of room to fill out too and that will be the tell-tale sign in how far his power develops.
\r\n
\r\nThe Yankees' Isaias Tejeda, a Dominican native, was originally a third baseman who is only now learning the ropes behind the plate. But offensively, he has a lot of talent. He hit .331 with six home runs and posted a .971 OPS for the Gulf Coast League Yankees last year, and his bat will afford him a lot of time to allow his defensive game to catch up.
\r\n
\r\nHow Do They Compare In...
\r\n
\r\nPower: New York trading away Jesus Montero makes this a closer race than it was at the start of the offseason. Where Lavarnway winds up position-wise will have a lot to say in the comparison of the farm systems at this position and in this category. If he winds up a designated hitter as most scouts tend to believe, it gives the Red Sox an unfair advantage in the power department but for now he's a catcher. Even though the likes of Vazquez, Swihart and Weems offer some long-term potential, it's tough for Boston to compete with the great depth the Yankees still have power-wise with Sanchez, Bird, Murphy, Romine, Tejeda, and even Higashioka. The Yankees still have a small edge here. Advantage: Yankees
\r\n
\r\nHitting For Average: While Christian Vazquez doesn't make the top five in this category, he's oh-so close. Throw in Swihart's immense upside with the bat and the current hitting ability of Larvarnway, the Red Sox once again make this a closer race than it was before Montero was dealt. But with Murphy, Sanchez, Bird, Romine, and Tejeda, it's just a bit too much depth in the Yankees favor right now. Advantage: Yankees
\r\n
\r\nDefense: Both Boston's Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler are really good defensively. In fact they're better than folks realize, but it's tough to compete depth-wise to compete with the big league catching abilities of Romine, Murphy, and Higashioka. If Swihart sticks at catcher this will be a dead-even heat, but then again the same could be said of New York's Sanchez and Bird. Advantage: Yankees.
\r\n
\r\nSpeed: Catchers are not impact runners most of the time, but both systems have some athleticism in their backstops that could prove to be decent runners. Advantage: Even.
\r\n
\r\nOverall Potential: Neither farm system has that rock-solid, sure bet all-around great catching prospect that is close to big league ready. Austin Romine is clearly the best in that regard and his power, while having some long-term potential, needs to show up more consistently in games. Larvarnway is obviously the most talented big league ready hitter right now but again he has some real defensive limitations. Beyond those two it comes down to minor league depth and quite frankly, as special as Swihart could wind up being for Boston, it's not enough to offset the depth of Sanchez, Bird, Murphy, and even Tejeda. Advantage: Yankees.
\r\n
\r\nHighest Ceilings: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Greg Bird (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox), Austin Romine (Yankees)
\r\n
\r\nBest Power: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox), Greg Bird (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Red Sox), Blake Swihart (Red Sox)
\r\n
\r\nBest Average: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Greg Bird (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Ryan Lavarnway (Red Sox)
\r\n
\r\nBest Defense: Kyle Higashioka (Yankees), Austin Romine (Yankees), Christian Vazquez (Red Sox), Dan Butler (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees)
\r\n
\r\nBest Speed: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Austin Romine (Yankees), Isaias Tejeda (Yankees), Jordan Weems (Red Sox).
\r\n
\r\n

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