Archive for Austin Romine
Starting today and continuing through the end of the Spring Training, we’re going to preview the Yankees position-by-position and on a couple of different levels.
The Yankees made a lot of moves (and non-moves) this winter, but I don’t think any was quite as curious as letting catcher Russell Martin depart via free agency. The club offered him a three-year contract worth $20M+ a year ago, but something changed and they didn’t even bother making an offer this time around. I don’t think we’re ever going to know what happened behind the scenes there. Martin now plies his trade with the Pirates after taking a two-year pact worth $17M.
Since New York never bothered to find a replacement starting catcher, they’re left with a hodgepodge of has-beens and never-wases behind the plate. The Yankees are very likely to receive their worst offensive output from the position since before Jorge Posada broke into the league in the late-90s. Brian Cashman & Co. have preached defense defense defense at the position since Martin left for Pittsburgh, which is fine. Punting a position offensively is no way to win the AL East, however.
The actual starting catcher is still to be determined, but based on the way the team’s decision makers talk about things, it sure sounds like Chris Stewart is the favorite. The 31-year-old was a zero at the plate — .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) in 157 plate appearances — as Martin’s backup last summer, and there’s nothing in his track record to suggest more offensive is coming. Pretty much the only thing Stewart has going for him offensively is his ability to make contact (career 12.2 K%), so maybe he’ll fluke into a .350 BABIP or something.
The defensive side of the ball is where Stewart earns his money. The various catcher defense rankings (2010, 2011, 2012) consistently rate him as average or better, plus those newfangled pitch framing studies say he’s one of the game’s best at turning would-be called balls into strikes. Whether that defensive value is enough to overcome his offensive shortcomings remains to be seen, but the Yankees have painted themselves into a corner and must hope that’s the case.
With Stewart the likely starter, Frankie Cervelli is the odds on favorite to serve as his backup. Those two roles could easily be switched, but you know that already. Both guys are out of minor league options and Cashman has all but confirmed that ensures they will open the season in the big leagues.
Cervelli, 26, is another poor offensive player, but he is slightly better than Stewart — career .271/.339/.353 (88 wRC+) — and a bit more likely to surprisingly turn in a league-average performance. Despite coming up with a strong defensive reputation, Frankie’s defense was pretty awful from 2010-2011 and was part of the reason the team replaced him last year. The club had him work on some stuff in Triple-A last summer and the early returns are positive, especially with his throwing. That has been demonstrably better in camp.
Knocking on the Door
As they tend to do, the Yankees are faking a competition this year. The three “candidates” for the starting catching spot are Stewart, Cervelli, and 24-year-old Austin Romine, who has missed much of the last two years with back problems. He can hit a little and has a good defensive reputation, but he’s unrefined and in need of regular at-bats. Romine has the best long-term potential of the three catching options, but he’s very likely to open the year with Triple-A Scranton. Given all the lost time, playing everyday in the minors instead of playing half-time in the big leagues is the best thing for his development at this point. He’s miss a lot of at-bats since the close of 2010.
The Top Prospect
New York’s top prospect behind the plate also happens to be their top prospect overall, 20-year-old Gary Sanchez. He hit .290/.344/.485 (~125 wRC+) in 474 plate appearances split between Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa last summer, and his 18 homers led all minor league catchers. Sanchez doesn’t have the innate hitting ability of Jesus Montero, but he does have a bit more power — career minor league ISOs: .193 vs. .210 in favor of Sanchez — and a far better chance of remaining behind the plate long-term. Give the catching situation at the upper levels, that’s pretty good news. Sanchez is expected to return to Tampa to start 2013 and should receive a midseason promotion to Double-A Trenton, meaning the only way he will be a factor at the big league level this summer is as trade bait.
The Deep Sleeper
The good news is that the Yankees are blessed with quite a bit of catching depth, which is absolutely intentional. J.R. Murphy will start the year back with Double-A Trenton, sandwiched between Romine in Scranton and Sanchez in Tampa. Further down the later is 16-year-old Luis Torrens, who signed out of Venezuela for $1.3M last July 2nd. Despite converting from third base to catcher within the last year or so, the Yankees are expected to bring Torrens to the United States with one of their two Rookie Level Gulf Coast League affiliates this summer. His defense lags behind his offense at this point (duh), but he still has breakout potential because he has an advanced approach at the plate and can hit to all fields.
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The 2013 outlook behind the plate at the big league level is pretty grim at the moment, and it will almost certainly be New York’s least productive position this summer. That isn’t surprising in and of itself, but the possibility of the catching tandem being several standard deviations below average is. Say what you want about Martin and his low batting averages, but he was close to a league average hitter with the Yankees (98 wRC+) while being above-average defensively and even on the bases. That’s an above-average player and the team will go into this season with a clear downgrade.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and Joe Girardi held his annual start-of-spring press conference this morning. The biggest news concerned (who else?) Alex Rodriguez, who will not join the team in camp and will instead rehab his hip in New York. Other than that, the press conference was pretty standard stuff. Here’s a recap of the session, which was partially streamed on ESPN and covered by the usual suspects: Mark Feinsand, Chad Jennings, Dan Barbarisi, Bryan Hoch, Jack Curry, and others.
On position players and the offense
- If the season started today, Brett Gardner would be in left field and Curtis Granderson would be in center. The team will discuss flipping the two, but Girardi said “right now there’s no plans to do anything.” If they do decide to make the switch, they’ll try it out early in camp first.
- Girardi said one of his biggest concerns in camp is finding a right-handed bat to complement their all-lefty outfield as well as the DH spot. Juan Rivera and Matt Diaz appear to be the two leading candidates for the job and will compete in camp.
- It sounds like Austin Romine is on the outside looking in as far as the catching competition goes, at least right now. “He still has an opportunity here,” said Girardi.
- “Our offense is going to be different, but I believe we’re going to score runs … We’re going to have to find different ways to score runs,” said the skipper when asked how the team would replace the power lost when Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, and others signed elsewhere.
- Girardi doesn’t have a set lineup in mind at the moment. I think we all have a general idea of who will bat towards the top of the order, who will bat in the middle, and who will fill out the bottom anyway.
On players coming off injury
- Girardi said there is some concern about Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera as they come off ankle and knee surgery, respectively. He expects both to be ready for Opening Day, however. The Cap’n ran for the first time yesterday.
- As for Michael Pineda — who did throw off a full mound today — Girardi said he’s “still in the early stages (of rehab) … we’re happy with the way he’s progressing.” Don’t expect to see the right-hander in a Spring Training game.
- “I don’t worry about where I’m going to be next year,” said Girardi about his contract, which expires after the season. “I’m worried about the next 162 games and getting to the playoffs and getting to the World Series. That’s my concern. That’s what I worry about.”
- Girardi, always the optimist, said “this team could win 95 games and get to the World Series (because) there’s a lot of talent in this room … If we play up to our capabilities, I believe we’re a very good team.” He is right, you know.
Last Friday, Buster Olney (Insider req’d) put together a post listing eight things that must go right for the Yankees in 2013. Most of them are obvious, like CC Sabathia having a strong season and Mariano Rivera returning to form, but I figured this was a good chance to piggyback on his idea and list some things I believe must go right for the club this year. I’m talking about big picture stuff, not just things that will help them contend in 2013.
Olney listed eight items, but I’m only going six deep. These aren’t listed in order of importance or anything like that, just in the order they came to me. They’re all important, but some are obviously more important than others.
The Yankees have three starting pitchers scheduled to become free agents after the season — Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Phil Hughes — and the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 means they won’t be able to go crazy on the free agent market next winter. Getting something out of Michael Pineda in the second half would obviously be helpful, but it’ll be just as important for either Nova or Phelps to step forward and solidify themselves as long-term starters. Finding a cheap starter in the organization is a necessity to remain competitive once payroll is slashed.
2. Austin Romine must stay healthy.
Romine is likely to open the season in Triple-A while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli make us want to claw our eyes out at the big league level, which is the best thing for his development. The 24-year-old has caught just 103 total games over the last two years due to persistent back problems, so he’s lost a lot of development time at a crucial age. Gary Sanchez is still several years away, so Romine is the organization’s best hope for a productive catcher in the near future. He needs to actually stay healthy for that to happen, so a full season in 2013 is imperative for his long-term future.
Rivera is a baseball playing robot and I expect him to have little trouble being productive following knee surgery. David Robertson is as good a setup man as you’ll find in the game, and the left-handed duo of Boone Logan and Clay Rapada is one of the better LOOGY tandems in baseball. The middle innings — fifth, sixth, and seventh, basically — fall on the shoulders of two pitchers who have combined to throw 50.1 innings over the last two seasons.
Joba, 27, struggled when he came off the DL at the trade deadline but finished the season very well, allowing just one earned run and one walk against 17 strikeouts in his final 13 innings of the season. It’s not a guarantee he’ll pitch well in 2013 of course, but it is encouraging. Aardsma made one late-season appearance and will be coming off two lost years due to elbow and hip surgery. The Yankees can get by if one of these two flames out and is unable to find his form from a few years ago, but getting nothing from both would create some major bullpen headaches.
4. Ichiro Suzuki must produce on an extreme, either good or bad.
The Yankees handed out just one multi-year contract this offseason, deciding the 39-year-old Ichiro was worthy of that kind of commitment. It’s my belief the deal was motivated by off-field factors — merchandise and ticket sales, advertising opportunities, increased popularity in Japan, etc. — and not so much his expected on-field performance. The late-season hot streak was nice and all, but Ichiro has managed just a .277/.308/.361 batting line in his last 1,384 plate appearances. Consider me skeptical.
So, what the club needs most from Suzuki next year is an extreme performance. He either needs to hit the cover off the ball like he did down the stretch and make me look like an idiot, or he needs to play so poorly the club will have no choice but to replace him. Splitting the middle and treading water won’t help, it just means he’ll remain in the lineup and be a question mark heading into 2014. Ichiro needs to erase doubt this summer, either by hitting so well they have to keep him or by hitting so poorly they have to dump him.
Every team needs their top prospects to stay healthy for obvious reasons, and the Yankees have three of their best minor leaguers coming off major injuries. Williams (shoulder) missed the second half following surgery while Campos (elbow) barely pitched in 2012. Heathcott (shoulder) missed the first half following his second surgery in as many offseasons and has yet to play more than 76 games in a single season. All three are among the team’s very best prospects and if the Yankees are serious about sticking to a budget, they’re going to need cheap production. That isn’t limited to plugging these guys into the roster down the line either, they need to stay healthy to boost potential trade value as well.
6. Alex Rodriguez must hit at least 13 homers.
Despite all the recent PED stuff, I’m working under the assumption A-Rod will rejoin the team around the All-Star break because that’s what the doctors (and the Yankees!) said following his latest hip surgery. If they’re able to void or otherwise shed his contract, great. But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Anyway, A-Rod is currently sitting on 647 career homers and is 13 away from triggering the first of five $6M homerun milestones in his contract. Triggering that bonus in 2013 — the next homer bonus would then be 54 homers away, a total even in-his-prime Alex would have trouble reaching in one year — gives the team another $6M to spend under the luxury tax threshold in 2014. It doesn’t sound like much, but $6M does go a long way. It’s enough to add an $18M player at the trade deadline. I don’t care anything about this latest PED stuff, I care about A-Rod reaching this first homer bonus this summer to give the team more flexibility next year.
Via Anthony McCarron: Brian Cashman said he expects Austin Romine to start the season in Triple-A while Frankie Cervelli and Chris Stewart handle catching duties at the big league level. “I expect Romine to go to Triple-A,” said the GM. “He missed all of last year, almost … I don’t expect him to be our everyday catcher out of the gate. He always has the possibility of taking it, but realistically, if I were in prediction mode, I’d say Triple-A. But he has a chance to alter that.”
Romine, 24, was recently praised by some of the organization’s higher-ups for his defense. That’s all well and good, but the fact remains that he has caught just 107 games over the last two seasons due to back injuries. He also has just 106 plate appearances above the Double-A level. Sending Romine back to Triple-A so he could play everyday is the right move for his development, I just wish the alternatives for the big league catching roles were better.
Not long before the Rangers signed A.J. Pierzynski, Jon Heyman said the Yankees were still unable to get excited about the long-time White Sox backstop. Despite their need for catching help, the 35-year-old who hit 27 homers last season just wasn’t doing it for them. Instead, Heyman says the Yankees are “looking to go” with Austin Romine behind the plate next year, the youngest of their four (don’t forget Bobby Wilson!) internal catching solutions.
Romine, 24, has had some of the blush come off his prospect rose these last two seasons due to back injuries. He’s appeared in just 111 games since 2011 with only 97 starts behind the plate. That’s a lot of development time lost at a crucial age, yet the Yankees are apparently open to using him as their primary big league backstop in 2013 because of his defense. Defense from the catcher position is something the team has become obsessed with in recent years, basically since they were able move Jorge Posada to DH full-time two years ago.
“He’s a plus, plus defender … He can really play the position,” said VP of Baseball Ops Mark Newman to Chad Jennings last week. You have to take quotes like that with a huge grain of salt because of course an organization is going to speak highly of its prospects. There’s nothing to be gained by doing otherwise. Romine could be a terrible defender (he’s not according to various scouting reports) and the Yankees could be well aware of it, but they’d never admit it. Remember how they insisted Jesus Montero could catch in the show and then did everything in their power to avoid using him behind the plate in September 2011? Kinda like that. Actions speak louder than words.
The Yankees are unlikely to make a meaningful catching addition before Spring Training just because the market is barren at the moment, both free agency and trades. That could change in an instant if some team decides to unload some salary, but I wouldn’t count on it. Sending Romine to Triple-A for everyday reps while Chris Stewart and Frankie Cervelli handle big league duties would be the easiest solution for the club and possibly the best both in the short- and long-term. However, if they do take Romine north out of camp and use him as the primary backstop at the outset of the season, it would speak volumes about their true feelings of his defense. It would be a massive vote of confidence.
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
Whether they want to admit it, the Yankees were dealt a significant blow when Russell Martin spurned their non-offer for a two-year pact with the Pirates. By no means is Martin a star behind the plate, but he’s a league average hitter who can play above-average defense at the catcher position. He’ll be close to impossible to replace in this market if you’re willing to look beyond the meager batting average.
“We do have placeholders there,” said Brian Cashman the other day when asked about his catching situation going forward, which sounds like something straight out of the “Bubba Crosby will be our center fielder” playbook. “We have people that can handle and run the game. The offense is an area that, currently with what our roster provides, will be a downgrade from what we’re used to. But the most important aspect of those games is (defense).”
The Yankees have more than two months left in the offseason to scour the free agent and trade markets for a replacement catcher, but right now their internal solutions consist of some has-beens and never-wases. Each has some kind of strength and many negatives, so let’s quickly review.
Cervelli, 26, is easily the most accomplished big league hitter of the team’s internal options. He’s produced a .271/.339/.353 batting line in 562 plate appearances while providing mostly below-average defense. Cervelli always seemed to have a knack for the poorly-times passed ball. The Yankees obviously don’t think much of him, otherwise they wouldn’t have sent him to the traveling circus known as Triple-A Scranton for all of last summer.
Of the four players in this post, the 24-year-old Romine is the only one with a real chance to be a long-term piece for the Yankees. He missed the start of last season with a back problem and only has 106 unimpressive plate appearances above Double-A to his credit. In 870 plate appearances at the Double-A level, he’s a .276/.336/.392 hitter. Romine is a generally considered a solid defender.
Last year’s backup, Stewart is a .217/.281/.302 hitter in 394 big league plate appearances. He’s considered a very good defender by the Yankees but I was a little underwhelmed last year. Poor hitting has a tendency to inflate a catcher’s defensive reputation, and that’s sorta what happened with the 30-year-old Stewart. That doesn’t mean he’s bad, but he’s not elite.
The new-comer to the group, Whiteside is a .215/.273/.335 career hitter in 537 plate appearances. The 33-year-old is another defense-first type, but I have no idea how true that is because I haven’t seem him play much. The Yankees have already removed him from the 40-man roster, so I guess he’s at the bottom of their internal catching totem pole.
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Let’s face it, there is no good solution here, especially if you’re looking for any kind of offense. The Yankees will take a very big hit in backstop production if any of these four gets regular playing time next year. Is one better than the rest? Maybe.
The Yankees came into this season knowing Russell Martin was going to be their full-time catcher, but the backup job was up for grabs. Frankie Cervelli was the incumbent and Austin Romine was the high-ish profile prospect who broke into the show as a September call-up a year ago, so the best man in Spring Training was going to win. As it turned out, neither had what it took.
Romine, 23, wound up with taking exactly zero plate appearances in Spring Training. He dealt with back inflammation — an injury that caused him to miss time last summer as well — in camp and suffered a setback towards the end of March. Romine didn’t get into minor league rehab games until July and it wasn’t until late-August that the Yankees activated him off the DL and send him down to Triple-A. He wasn’t brought back for a September call-up.
All told, Romine batted just 195 times between the minor league regular season and the Arizona Fall League in 2012. Instead of possibly spending the year cutting his teeth as the big league backup, it was a lost season in which the Yankees were unable to find out anything about Romine at the Major League level. Pretty much the only good news was that they never actually burned a minor league option this year, so he still has all three left. Some consolation prize.
The Yankees were concerned about their upper level catching depth in the wake of Romine’s back injury, so at the end of Spring Training they swung a somewhat surprising move, sending right-hander George Kontos to the Giants for the 30-year-old Stewart. Just like that, the team had a new backup catcher and the competition in camp was rendered moot.
Stewart, true to his reputation, didn’t hit a lick this year. He got on everyone’s good side with a handful of timely RBI singles in April, but overall he produced just a .241/.292/.319 (65 wRC+) batting line in 157 plate appearances. I thought his defense was solid but not as good as advertised — he threw out only eight of 35 attempted base-stealers (22.9%), for example — so Stewart struck me as a classic Nichols’ Law catcher. Considering the team’s midseason bullpen woes, Kontos (2.47 ERA and 2.80 FIP in 43.2 innings for the Giants) would have been a nice piece to have around.
There was no more room left at the inn after acquiring Stewart, so the Yankees demoted Cervelli to Triple-A at the end of Spring Training. As if that wasn’t bad enough — Cervelli hadn’t spent extended time in the minors since 2009 — the Triple-A squad had to play on the road all season due to extensive renovations at PNC Field in Scranton. Frankie went from being the team’s backup catcher to a full season’s worth of bus rides in about five minutes.
Cervelli, 26, was supposed to go down and show the team what a huge mistake they had made, but instead he hit just .246/.341/.316 (89 wRC+) in 417 plate appearances. The Yankees recalled him as the third catcher in September but only got him into three games due to the tight race with the Orioles. To Cervelli’s credit, he worked a hard-fought two-out, six-pitch walk in his first of two big league plate appearances, coming around to score the game-winning run in the 12th inning against the Red Sox in Game 161. Nice moment, but hardly a season worth remembering.
Just a procedural note, but the Yankees have activated catcher Austin Romine off the 60-day DL and optioned him to Triple-A Empire State according to Donnie Collins. His 30-day rehab window had expired after missing the first half of the season with a back problem. The 40-man roster is now full, but the Yankees still have eight players on the 60-day DL.
12:02pm: Via Josh Norris, the Yankees will indeed send Heathcott to the AzFL. He says they’re also likely to send RHP Dan Burawa (oblique, rib) if he gets healthy in time, and other players in consideration for a trip to Arizona include RHP Zach Nuding, RHP Tommy Kahnle, LHP Matt Tracy, RHP Mark Montgomery, RHP Branden Pinder, and RHP Preston Claiborne.
10:00am: Via Joel Sherman, the Yankees are planning to send C Austin Romine and 2B David Adams to the Arizona Fall League after the season. Both players have missed time with injuries not just this year, but last year as well. Romine (back) only has 70 plate appearances this season while Adams (ankle, neck) has 328 plate appearances. He’s been working out at third base lately and could get more time there in the desert.
The rosters have not been officially announced as of yet but that could happen as soon as next week. OF Slade Heathcott would make sense for an AzFL trip as well after missing the first half of the season due to shoulder surgery, though he would count as their one Single-A player. Neither LHP Manny Banuelos or RHP Jose Campos will be eligible because they were not on an active roster within 45 days of the end of the season. The rules are weird, I know. Each teams sends seven players, usually three position players and four pitchers.