Patrick Teale

Kyle Higashioka broke out in a big way when he needed it in 2016 and now he's on the 40-man roster.

Catcher Kyle Higashioka turned in a breakout season in 2016 when he absolutely needed one, so much so that the seeming organizational afterthought entering the year recently got added to the Yankees' 40-man roster last Saturday despite the roster being loaded with quality catchers already.

He hit a combined .276 with 21 home runs between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton, and set career highs in every category in what was essentially his ninth minor league season since his eighth round selection back in 2008.

"I think it went really well," Higashioka said.  "I went out and did what I wanted to do at the plate, caught pretty well, and ended up with a championship so it couldn't have gone better I think."

In fact, his year was so good that it kind of came out of nowhere in the minds of many considering his previous career high in batting was .253 in Staten Island way back in 2009 and his 21 home runs equaled the combined total of his previous five seasons.  Though it took nearly nine years, in the estimation of some he was an "overnight" success story.

"I can definitely see why this year for me would basically surprise everybody but it's [actually] been a long process of a lot of things that I've learned over the years," he said.  "People have helped me and it's been a long process, but everything is coming together."

To the surprise of many outside the organization, it's not like 'Higgy' came out of nowhere.  Long lauded by team insiders for his plate patience, pitch recognition, and center to opposite field approach, the constant battle between injuries and swing adjustments just didn't allow him to maximize his potential offensively until this year.

"It was kind of tough during some of those not-so-good years but every offseason I'd go back and work on my swing, and I'd be crushing the ball," he said.  "I knew it was inside me the whole time but earlier in my career I wasn't doing the right things.  I didn't really know exactly what I needed to do to be a better hitter.

"I've been continuously refining my approach at the plate.  I made some adjustments in the offseason which allowed me to be more consistent, stay on plane with the ball, and not hit so many ground balls."

In the end all it really took was some minor adjustments to his swing path that allowed him to drive the ball more than ever.

"Flattening out my swing-plane a little bit, trying to match it with the flight of the pitch," he said of his biggest adjustment in 2016.  "In years passed I'd be downhill and from a physics standpoint it didn't make a lot of sense.

"I changed that and I noticed I was a lot more consistent, I had a lot more margin for error in terms of my timing, and I was also immensely better than in years passed at hitting offspeed pitches.  I think before [the changes] I couldn't hit an offspeed pitch and this year it was easier for me to make solid contact just because I had more margin for error."

He didn't just make more 'solid' contact, he was able to drive the ball better than ever and many of them found their way over the outfield fence over the course of the season.

"I probably hit a few more home runs than I expected," he humbly said.  "I think the home runs were more a byproduct of the swing adjustments I made and it just fell into place.  I wasn't striving to hit home runs all of the time, it just happened."

So while he had a huge uptick in home run production it wasn't due to some massive offseason workout regimen or new pull-happy approach; he just made some minor swing adjustments and stayed true with his center-to-opposite field approach this year.

"In years passed I hadn't been able to drive the ball to the opposite field even though I'd look to hit it that way.  This year I just focused on middle of the field and the opposite field hits came when they did, and when I connected I was able to drive them rather than just flaring them into right [field]."

Simply, he found a way to become a better hitter mechanically and the results finally started matching what many observers believed to be his true hitting potential.  In fact, he firmly believes the hitter he was this year is the hitter he will continue to be going forward.

"Yes, definitely!  I'm confident I can reproduce this every year from here on out because it's not like I did something crazy in the offseason, I just stuck to doing what I do best and made some minor swing adjustments," he said emphatically.  "I didn't really veer from my standard up the field approach, I just made some [minor] adjustments I thought were going to be helpful and everything fell into place."

Everything sure fell into place for 'Higgy'.  In fact, the Yankees also believe this is the hitter he will continue to be going forward, so much so that they put him on the 40-man roster this past week despite having three quality big league catchers already on the roster.

"I knew what I was capable of, I just needed to produce it.  I was really excited.  It's obviously a huge honor.  I'm excited to go into Spring Training not as a non-roster invite."

Now in the mix with the likes of Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann, and Austin Romine, 'Higgy' knows he has an uphill battle to grab some big league playing time away from them but as he proved in 2016 he is more than up to the challenge.

"The only thing I can do is keep producing and good things will happen either way.  As long as I can keep doing what I do best then it's out of my hands. 

"It's kind of the outlook you have to have if you're anybody.  I think I can do it and I'm just looking forward to see what happens next year," he concluded.

Pinstripes Plus Top Stories