Yankees' catching set for years to come
Martin, pair of top prospects provide depth behind the dish
It's difficult to quantify the degree to which the New York Yankees miss Jorge Posada's energy, leadership and offense.
Posada provided that certain something that defines good teams. He had that special charisma that ignited his teammates, his fans and everyone associated with the club.
The Yankees are still adjusting to Posada's departure since his retirement. He's a tough guy to replace.
Now in his seventh big league season -- and second with the Yankees -- Russell Martin has the unenviable task of following Posada. In reality, this process started last season, when Posada's transition to retirement began with his primary role shifting to designated hitter. Martin was the regular catcher, but Posada was still around for encouragement.
Martin began his career with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006 at the age of 23. He hit .282 his rookie year, with 10 homers, 65 RBIs and 10 steals. Proving his first year was no fluke, Martin batted .293 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs in his sophomore year for his best season to date.
Flash forward to 2012 and Martin is the primary catcher for a club expected to contend for -- if not win -- a World Series championship. He has played 835 Major League games, which represents a lot of squatting behind the plate and a lot of wear and tear on his body.
Entering Sunday, Martin was hitting only .190 over his first 126 at-bats and had driven in only 12 runs in a lineup loaded with men who get on base regularly.
During Spring Training, when discussing his team's catching corps with Mariners catcher John Jaso, Martin made the point that a crucial component of catching is handling a pitching staff. Martin does that well. He is the shepherd who gets his flock through games. He can be trusted. He knows the hitters. His experience is important. There are other Yankees hitters to drive in runs, but more offense would be welcome.
The Yankees felt they could afford to trade Jesus Montero to Seattle during the offseason due to the depth of their catching throughout the organization. Experienced backup catcher Francisco Cervelli is waiting at Triple-A in the event Martin is injured. Cervelli can be trusted to play solid defense and handle the pitching staff if needed. He has caught the Yankees' pitchers in the past, and he would require little time to adjust to the familiar surroundings.
But the true future of the Yankees' catching corps rests with the duo of Austin Romine and, eventually and ultimately, Gary Sanchez.
Romine, who is ranked No. 7 on MLB.com's list of Top 20 Yankees prospects, has a very balanced offensive/defensive game. He can hit for a respectable average and he has some pop in his bat. Romine has the ability to make contact, with good hitting fundamentals and a good understanding of his own abilities. He doesn't try to do too much. Although Romine has flashed some power, he doesn't try to hit every pitch out of the park.
Defensively, Romine is very solid. His mechanics are above average. A good athlete, his footwork, range and agility are above average. He has a strong arm with a good release. If there was any issue I observed when I saw him in the 2010 Arizona Fall League, it was a tendency to throw a bit inaccurately when attempting to nail potential basestealers.
Romine had a concussion that cost him playing time last June. In addition, he lost time with a lower back strain. His back issues continued this season, as he has not yet begun to play. If all goes well, Romine is scheduled to return to the field at some point in July. He has work to do to make up for lost time, both offensively and defensively.
While Romine may be the next catcher in line for the full-time job, once he assumes the role, he may have Sanchez nipping at his heels.
Sanchez, the Yankees' No. 3 prospect, is a hitter-first type of catcher. His offense projects to be well above average. Currently playing at Class A Charleston, Sanchez is hitting .305 with eight homers and 39 RBIs in 190 at-bats. Although not known for his speed, he has even stolen nine bases.
Sanchez was very raw entering professional baseball after being signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009. He had shown an ability to make contact and hit with some power and has since confirmed those tools as the primary components of his game. If there is a flaw to Sanchez's offensive game, it could be his difficulty with hitting sliders and breaking balls that tail down and away. That is a common issue for young hitters and one that usually improves with experience against quality pitching.
Sanchez has good plate discipline, especially for a young hitter. He has the ability to wait for a pitch he can drive. Like may good hitters, Sanchez thrives on pitchers' mistakes. He has shown quick hands through the ball and strength in his forearms that allow him to drive the ball to the gaps, using the entire field.
There are comparisons between Sanchez and Montero. Both are better offensively than defensively. Both have the ability to hit for average and power. If anything, Sanchez may have a bit of a cleaner, more mechanically sound swing than Montero. Sanchez repeats his swing well, finishing with a good follow-through without getting too long. I have seen times when Montero appears to extend his swing in an effort to take the ball out of the park. Both hitters expand the strike zone if they are down in the count, but that is normal, especially for young hitters.
While they may still miss Posada, the future of the Yankees' catching is secure. Romine and Sanchez represent the next generation who will carry on Posada's tradition as strong-hitting catchers on good clubs.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.