Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Our Minor Leagues Catching Situation and the Trade Market

 Jesus Montero: Image courtesy of NY Daily News

If there is one thing that is a clear positive in the Yankees farm system it is the surplus of catchers. In short summary, we have our star prospect in AAA, Jesus Montero, and we have one catcher at every level below that who has the potential of being a future starting catcher in the league. Many feel that Jesus Montero lacks the defensive capabilities to ever be a long-term catcher in the majors, but that remains to be seen, and until proven otherwise, he is a catching prospect.

In AA, we have Romine. His power potential still isn't showing, but he is hitting for a great average and he's proving that he can handle the stress of a full season. He is a solid defensive catcher, so providing solid offense is more than you could ask for from a guy like him, even if the power numbers aren't there.

In high A Tampa, we now have JR Murphy. He just hit his first homerun in high A, and he seems to be getting a grasp on the pitching at this level already. More importantly, after being switched to a fielding prospect, he showed much improved defense at the catcher position this season and has reinstated himself as yet another future catching prospect in the Yankees system, contributing even more to the logjam we have going at this position. No one doubts his bat, but if he can continue to call a solid game and field his position, we could be talking about another top 100 prospect.

Down in Low A Charleston we have one guy who is a potential major league backup with his defensive skills and one guy who is a potential future star who has not met expectations yet this season, but is only 18 years old. The first guy I speak of is Kyle Higashioka. Interestingly, he started off the season in high A Tampa. His defense was great, but then he was sent down to Charleston in favor of JR Murphy, who admittedly deserved the promotion. The weirdest part though, is that he got demoted just as he hit a hot streak with the bat in Tampa. He has continued that streak, and now for the first time in his career, is consistently hitting the ball well. He had probably the best game of his career a few days ago where he homered and had a few hits to go along with it. He might be a guy who resurfaces as a prospect by the end of the season. The other catcher in Charleston, who probably should have been mentioned first since Higashioka is really the "other catcher" at this level, is Gary Sanchez. He has had numerous struggles this season as an 18 year old in Charleston, which is really not the end of the world. He has had discipline problems, defensive issues, and hasn't been nearly as effective with the bat as he was expected to be so far this season. Recently he has shown some promise as to improvement, and the power is still there. He is going to have to have a strong second half to instill a sense of confidence in Yankees fans as well as pro scouts in order to save his top 50 prospect status by the end of the season. Regardless of any of these struggles, he's 18. He's already in full season baseball, and he has the potential to be a solid defensive backstop with special power.

Below Charleston, there isn't much in the way of backstops, at least nothing that has developed yet. There are a few guys performing well in the GCL and in Staten Island, but none of them are considered high ceiling prospects. In all honesty this might actually be a good thing, because there is simply no space for them on any of the full season rosters right now.

The question of the day, however, is where does this leave us. By next year, something has to give. The way I see it, one of three things can happen. Jesus Montero can be brought up as Russel Martin's backup next season. and finally get some on-the-job training. He will likely get a September call-up this season, and this will be good practice for him. This would open up AAA for Romine, which would open up AA for JR Murphy, which would open up High A for Sanchez or Higgashioka.

In the second scenario, we make a trade for a starting pitcher that includes Jesus Montero in it. The most likely candidate I see out there right now is Ubaldo Jimenez. Then, the same positions open up, and we still have a catcher with decent potential at every level. just without our star.

Finally, the third scenario involves what in my opinion amounts to a non-option. It involves moving Romine to AAA and having he and Montero share the catching duties next season. The likelihood of this happening, I would say, is almost zero. The front office is smarter than that. If Jesus Montero is bored now, he would probably be ready to stab himself in the eyes with a pencil in a situation like that.

Ideally, Montero will be up with the big league team for good by September. At this point, however, it wouldn't be smart of any Yankees fan to say that Montero is more valuable to this team than Ubaldo Jimenez could be. With the catching depth we have in our system, there is no reason why Montero can't be traded. I think the kid is great, and I do think he will eventually be heavy hitting player in the league. There are, however, several question marks which may not allow him to succeed as a Yankee. If he can't catch, he is not use to us. The other options for him would be 1B or DH. 1B is locked up by Teixera for years, and DH will likely be needed for A-Rod and Jeter in the coming years. He's got to stick at catcher. I'd love to see that happen, but in the end, our best option now might be to... and I hate to say this as much as anyone does... trade... Montero.

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