The comeback road has been long for Francisco Cervelli, out since an infamous Spring Training collision with Elliot Johnson fractured his wrist and cut his season in half.
After stops in the Gulf Coast League and with the single-A Tampa Yankees, Cervelli is finally back where he should have started the season, Double-A Trenton.
"It took a long time, but I worked hard every day and now I'm here," said Cervelli, who despite the fact he feels no lingering pain will have to keep taping up his wrist for years due to the severity of the injury.
Not only that, Cervelli also hurt his knee during rehab and that MCL strain, in his words, caused a small set-back in his rehab but also gives him no lingering pain.
"I just need to be one hundred percent," Cervelli remarked, when asked what his focus was for the rest of the season. "I need to get to the level I was at last year, but the first thing I want to do is focus on being healthy, one hundred percent."
Cervelli has long been known as a stellar defensive catcher with a bat seen to be ‘coming around.' Rated as the best defensive catcher coming into the season by both PinstripesPlus and Baseball America, it was tough to see Cervelli regaining his defensive prowess so soon after a major injury to his throwing wrist.
Trenton manager Tony Franklin likes what he's seen thus far from Cervelli behind the plate.
"He's going pretty good right now but the tendency is to forget just how few games he's caught this year," Franklin cautioned. "He brings a lot of energy to the position, he's very mobile and he does some good things and he's got some very good tools.
"He's got a very quick release, good arm pretty good but sometimes he can try to be a little too fast. He's got very good footwork behind the plate and gets in a good position to throw so, consequently he's really throwing well."
Trenton's hitting coach Tom Wilson similarly wants to get Cervelli back into the flow of things before really starting to work with him.
"We're just working on being consistent," said Wilson. "I can't really do a ton of stuff with him because he's caught so few games over the past few months.
"This is really Spring Training for him and he's just focusing on getting his feet underneath him and finishing strong for us, get some quality playing time, have some good at-bats, and that'll lead into winter ball season for him so he can come back and go for Spring Training."
Cervelli, it seems, is adjusting to Trenton just fine. In only eight games with the Thunder Cervelli is batting .360 with three doubles and a .947 OPS in 18 at-bats.
This solid hitting, albeit in a small sample size, shows why many Yankees fans and those around the organization had Cervelli tabbed as the one most likely to be called up in the event of a long-term Jorge Posada or Jose Molina injury.
When Posada went down, however, Cervelli was still months away from even Double-A, and as such in no position to take advantage of the opportunity, through no fault of his own.
"When we're talking about big league chances I do feel a little bit sad that the missed time had to happen this year," muses Cervelli. "Things happen for a reason. Maybe I learned some things that I wouldn't have learned if I hadn't been hurt.
"It's frustrating to stay in the same place for five months but now I have to put that behind me. I'm here and I'm playing, that's in the past."
While Cervelli gets on base consistently (.387 OBP last year, .400 this year between the three minor league levels), he does not have the power potential of some of the prospects in the low levels of the minors.
Wilson acknowledges that the power may not be there, but does say that he thinks Cervelli could hit enough to be a starting major league catcher in the future.
"I can't really say [about the power], said Wilson. "I don't think he's going to be out there hitting twenty home runs in a season but I think he is going to have a little bit of power, maybe five to seven, maybe ten in a good year. He's a contact guy for me, he can bunt, you can hit-and-run with him, he's a gap power guy, a doubles type guy."
As for next season, Cervelli has plans to play winter ball to get in shape for 2009 Spring Training but admits those plans could change in a hurry if the Yankees decide they want him to play elsewhere.
"I think I'm going to go play in Venezuela but I don't know if they [the Yankees] have plans to send me somewhere else, before," Cervelli admitted. "I want to play because I haven't played for a long time but it depends. I want to be one hundred percent next year, so we'll see, get a full good season under my belt."
Should Cervelli come to Spring Training 2009 prepared and put together a good showing, it is not unreasonable to think he could be playing in New Yankee Stadium at some point in its inaugural season.
Cervelli Looking Ahead
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