As first reported by Joel Sherman on Friday, the Yankees intend to call up J.R. Murphy from Triple-A today to serve as their 3rd catcher. The move comes as a bit of a surprise - Murphy isn't on the 40-man roster and hasn't really been talked about as a major September call-up candidate - but not an unearned surprise for the 22-year-old catcher coming off a career year. After hitting .268/.352/.421 (.353 wOBA) in 49 games at Double-A Trenton, Murphy was moved up to Triple-A where he hardly missed an offensive beat. In 59 games for the RailRiders, Murphy hit .270/.342/.430 (.350 wOBA) and overall he set career highs this season in hits (111), HR (12), and BB (47) while throwing out 37% of potential base stealers.
As the third catcher, Murphy will see little if any playing time in September. This promotion comes mainly as a reward for a strong MiL season and mainly because there isn't a single other viable catching option in the system right now. Murphy will catch bullpen sessions and work with the team during pregame workouts, and there will be plenty for him to learn from watching and talking with the team's veteran players. By choosing to bring him up for that purpose, the Yankees are showing a slight change in organizational philosophy.
The third catching spot in September is traditionally a below-average veteran player, there for insurance more than anything else. The Yankees going against that and calling up a legitimate prospect, one who could factor into the roster battles next spring, is a sign that they're finally starting to shift their focus towards the future. Rather than just stock up on emergency depth for the final month, they're calling up a kid who they like and who's arguably performed better than any top prospect in the organization to get a look at him, evaluate him as a future Major League catching option, and get him a taste of big league life. If they're serious about Murphy as a future part of the team, this is a much better way to get him started on that path than just throwing him in the fire in spring camp next year.
Murphy will require a 40-man roster move, likely Jayson Nix to the 60-day, and as far as I'm concerned it will be a move well made. Murphy has had a great year behind the plate, and he's done at it 2 levels in a season where he was only expected to play at 1. We've heard for a few years now that Murphy has been getting better and better and it all came together for him this season. It's a good sign that he's getting rewarded like this and it's an even better sign that the Yankees are starting to smarten up about how they handle and develop their upper-level prospects.