Name: Kyle Higashioka
DOB: April 20, 1990
Batting and Power. For years 'Higgy' was an offensive enigma. He had everything in place to be a high-average hitter; great patience, advanced pitch recognition and plate discipline, a short and compact stroke, and a tangible center to opposite field approach, and yet he would annually struggle to hit above .250. He also had [and still has] excellent gap power and burgeoning average or better home run power potential, and yet he never hit double-digit home runs until his breakout season last year. Some small tweaks to his swing and a return to health [he missed most of 2013 and 2014 with Tommy John surgery], as well as finding that work balance defensively and offensively, allowed his batting potential to finally reach the surface and become the impact hitter he always showed signs of being. Some critics may point to his lone great 2016 offensive outburst as the aberration when in actuality everything about his offensive tools suggest last season should the be the standard offensive season expected. He has impact batting potential and a flare for consistency.
Base Running and Speed. Like most catchers he isn't speedy at all but he is extremely intelligent and shows a bit more nimbleness and agility than most backstops. He won't be an asset stealing bases -- maybe just one or two here and there -- but he won't be a liability running station to station either so in that regard he is better than most at the position.
Defense. 'Higgy' has widely been known for his defensive prowess behind the plate for many years now and a big reason why is his enormous mental makeup. In very much coach-like fashion he knows exactly where to be in every situation, knows where his teammates should be, and has excellent anticipation too. So while the arm strength is more on the average side of things -- the only downside physically to his defensive game -- he makes up for it with one of the quicker exchanges and releases around, and his throws are consistently accurate. A born leader, he excels at receiving, blocking balls, and perhaps his greatest strength is building a rapport and working with his pitchers. He has Gold Glove potential in nearly every phase of the defensive game.
Projection. We've been touting Higashioka as one of the better all-around catching prospects in the game for many years now, it just took a while for the entire game to materialize and mature. Catchers normally take longer than most prospects to develop anyway and it's because of the need to learn how to balance the work needed on both sides of the ball. A defense-first position like catcher, he's never had an issue on that side of the ball. For years he already had the kind of defensive game that projected him safely as an eventual big league backup catcher at minimum, somebody who could carve out a Drew Butera-like big league career even if the bat didn't come around. However, boasting a David Wright-like offensive approach even in his younger days, he just needed to get healthy and build up some confidence to become the same consistent force offensively that he was defensively. Should he remain healthy going forward he has the offensive talent to hit anywhere in the middle third of a big league lineup eventually and defensively he's the kind of player you want back there everyday. Seasons like he had in 2016 are not only not far-fetched but should be there for the taking if given ample playing time.
ETA. 2017. Higashioka has been big league ready defensively for a number of years now. And with no pressure to perform offensively with Gary Sanchez around he could easily slot in as the Yankees' backup catcher in a moment's notice should the need arise.