(Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/NY Daily News)
Today's the day. As you read this, the late arrivals from the pitcher/catcher corps are showing up at the Tampa complex in preparation for tomorrow's first official team workout. Spring Training has begun and baseball is officially back! It's a little late to prep with the players already arriving, but I'm giving myself a 1-day grace period since the first workout isn't until tomorrow and covering the catchers today. Behind the plate is one part of the roster where the Yankees have very good depth. They've got no less than 4 catchers who could play every day at the Major League level right now if they needed to and their top organizational prospect waiting in the wings. After the jump, the backstops who'll be appearing in ST this year.
Brian McCann- Newest member to the catching group, McCann takes over for the departed Chris Stewart and will be a big offensive upgrade at the position, the first really good hitting catcher the Yanks have had since Jorge Posada retired. He's also no slouch behind the plate, earning high marks for his game calling ball blocking, and pitch framing skills, and he should immediately assume a leadership role on the field and in the clubhouse. He turns 30 next Thursday, so he's still in his prime, but he also has a lot of mileage on him already behind the plate. I would expect a somewhat light spring workload for him.
Francisco Cervelli- It would have been interesting to see how Cervelli's season would have played out had he not gotten hurt so early. He posted a .385 wOBA, hit 3 HR, scored 12 runs, and racked up 0.8 fWAR in 61 PA before he went down and he was well on his way to wrestling the full-time starter job away from Stewart. Now recovered physically and with his 50-game Biogenesis suspension behind him, Cervy is back to his regular backup spot where he's probably best suited. Hard to believe he's been around the Major League team since '08. He should have a leg up on the other backup competitors, but he will have to prove himself.
The Triple-A Starter Battle:
Austin Romine- Like Cervelli, Romine's propensity for getting injured has slowed his development and prevented him from nailing down the backup job. He stepped into Cervelli's spot last year and struggled early with the bat before starting to turn things around later in August and September. Concussion and back issues are a concern with him entering this season, but he should be fully healthy for the start. If Cervelli goes down again, he should be the first in line to replace him based on seniority over the next guy.
J.R. Murphy- Meet the next guy. If you didn't know who Murphy was at the start of the 2013 season, you definitely knew him by the end. Murphy excelled at 2 levels in the Minors before being forced into late September Major League duty after Romine's concussion. His offensive ceiling has raised to that of a potentially slightly above-average bat and very good defense, and based on the positive feedback he got from his 2013 audition Murphy is a dark horse candidate to steal the Major League backup job along with supplanting Romine as the everyday SWB starter.
Gary Sanchez- The unquestioned top prospect in the organization, Sanchez will attend this year's spring camp as a member of the 40-man roster for the first time. He's almost assuredly ticketed for a full season in Double-A ball thanks to the 4 guys above him and that will be good for his development. That said, Sanchez's MLB debut date is getting closer all the time and I imagine the Major League coaching staff will be paying closer attention to him this spring than in years past.
The Rest: Jose Gil, Francisco Arcia
All those pitchers in camp need somebody to throw to, and these 2 are here to help shoulder that load. Both Gil and Arcia are familiar org depth faces and by now they have a pretty good rapport with most of the MiL pitchers who will be in camp. Once the roster starts thinning out and fewer pitchers are around, these guys will get cut too and re-assigned to their MiL teams.
** Coming up next week- I'll preview the rest of the position players as they get set to arrive at camp next Wednesday. Infield will be on Monday, outfield either Tuesday or Wednesday. **