Jesus Montero: One of the best organizational positives in 2008 was the firm establishment of Montero as an offensive force at a premium position. He backed up his growing reputation as an offensive stud in his first full season, hitting .326 with 34 doubles and 17 home runs for the Charleston Riverdogs in the South Atlantic League.
He gets a bad reputation as a future designated hitter as some critics don't believe he has the defensive skills to remain behind the plate. He definitely does, however. He made tremendous progress improving his receiving skills, quickening his pop-times on throws to second, and improving his overall flexibility.
At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds and just 19 years old, it's quite possible he could out-grow the position down the road. However, there have been larger catchers in the big leagues [Mike Piazza and Joe Mauer to name a couple] and there are positives to being a bigger receiver - pitchers love the big target he provides behind the plate and actually prefer throwing to him as a result, and being naturally stronger allows him to not tire down the stretch and remain an offensive force throughout the entire season [he hit .344 with ten home runs after the All-Star break].
Austin Romine: Unlike Montero, the Yankees second round pick in 2007 wasn't able to find his professional bearings before being thrust into the long-season leagues. The teenager had just two at-bats prior to playing in the South Atlantic League and it took him a little while to find his offensive rhythm.
Like Montero, however, he brings a potent bat to a premium position and he too got better as the season wore on. He hit all ten of his home runs in the second-half last season. Romine, a plus defender already, also made strides improving his flexibility, thanks to taking yoga. His power arm gives him an edge defensively over most catchers and there are few who can match his confidence on both sides of the ball. He also takes more pride in his defensive game than his offense and that is a winning attribute.
Closest to the Majors
Francisco Cervelli: Known as a great defensive player in all phases of the game behind the plate, his solid offensive potential often gets overlooked. He missed most of the 2008 season after a collision in Spring Training put him on the shelf, but his plus plate discipline, great catch-and-throw abilities, leadership skills and great makeup are big league ready. He only lacks plus home run power, but he has all of the other tools to be a starting catcher.
Kyle Anson: The former third baseman is a rawer version of Cervelli. He too has unbelievable plate discipline [he has more walks than strikeouts in his career], one of the strongest arms around with innately accurate throws to boot, and he plays the game with the type of piss-and-vinegar needed to be a stalwart in the clubhouse.
His switch-hitting abilities make him a bit of a rarity as well, and considering he has essentially been catching for two injury-shortened seasons, many have overlooked just how good he could become with some more experience.
|QUITE GOOD: Higashioka has plus offensive potential despite not having plus power in his game. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
He lacks the true power arm or power bat that dazzles onlookers, but he is so solid in all phases of the game at such a young age that he will be undervalued by many prospect followers. He has a sweet right-handed swing mechanically, a mature approach at the plate, solid receiving skills, and one of the best work ethics around. While his arm isn't the strongest, he more than makes up for it with a very quick release and accurate throws.
Chase Weems: Weems is the rawest player among the catchers listed in these first three categories, but he provides significant upside. His lean, muscular build gives him great agility around the plate and that allows him to thrive at blocking balls in the dirt and make quick throws on would-be base stealers.
His skinnier frame, however, does have him lagging a bit behind in the power department offensively and his lack of natural loft in his swing will keep his home run totals in check for the time being. That should keep him under the radar for a while. He is an extremely pesky out though and he works as hard as anybody in the organization. Doing all the little things well, he brings a lot of value to the game.
Need to Make Their Move
Francisco Arcia: Part "sleeper", the 19-year old has a very intriguing overall package. He possesses some power potential, he consistently gives a very good at-bat, and he is blessed with a very good work ethic. Despite being so young, however, he is quickly being buried by the ever-growing depth of catchers and the potential loss of playing time could stifle his development if he's not careful.
Brian Baisley: It's difficult to have a better overall year with sporadic playing time than Baisley had in '08. He slugged a combined 25 doubles and 15 home runs in just 341 at-bats between Charleston and Staten Island, but at 26 years old he needs either a change of position or a change of scenery because playing time behind the plate just isn't there for him with the Yankees.
Jose Gil: The 22-year old is a fine overall catcher, showing some power offensively and complete defensive package, so much so that he has become a favorite among pitchers in the organization. His problem though is finding enough playing time with so many quality backstops in the Yankees farm system.
P.J. Pilittere: Everyone's favorite player to root for, all Piliterre does is win championships. Amassing four titles [a College World Series title with Cal-State Fullerton, a NY-Penn League Championship, and two Eastern League titles] so far, he oozes intangibles. Pitchers love throwing to him, coaches love playing him, and he does everything right. He doesn't have a plus physical tool, however, and that limits the 27-year old's upside.
The Jury is Still Out
Mitch Abeita: The former University of Nebraska backstop brings a little bit of everything to the game - solid defensive skills, patience, plate discipline, and even a little pop. He has an uphill battle for playing time though with all of the catchers in the organization and even though he has just 172 career at-bats he still has to make his mark soon to avoid becoming an afterthought.
Jorge Liccien: A projectable International free agent signing in 2007, the Venezuelan native is already a stud defensively. He has an incredibly strong and accurate arm, he blocks and receives well, and he has a knack for making contact at the plate. He hit .277 for DSL Yankees2 and his entire game makes him a legitimate "sleeper", but he's prone to swinging at everything. The jury is still out whether or not he can show better patience and plate discipline. If he can, however, the Yankees could have Francisco Cervelli, Part Deux on their hands.
Jackson Valera: One of the Yankees top International signings from the 2008 class, Valera is a former third baseman from Venezuela. Thick-bodied and strong, he offers plenty of offensive potential, especially power-wise. He just switched to catcher last summer though and it remains to be seen how he and his offensive game handle the physical rigors of playing behind the plate everyday. He could quickly fit into the 'highest ceiling' or 'sleeper' categories very soon.