Crouching Catchers, Hidden Prospects

Before we get started talking about Yankee catchers of the present and future, I'd like to introduce something I'm going to call "mood music."   Given the amount of music chat that's gone on in the community, at the top of some of my posts, I'd like to link to some music for your listening pleasure, and will gladly take your recommendations and comments if it catches on.  Today's inaugural mood music choice? No Quarter by Led Zeppelin.  Now, to business.

On August 17th, Jorge Posada will turn 39 (which is about 55 in catcher's years), and although he hasn't shown too many signs of slowing down (here I think he is helped by not catching 100 games in a season until he was 28), we really have no way of knowing how long it will be before he turns into a pumpkin.  Just recently, Posada spent some time on the DL with a fractured right foot, and we got a glimpse of what life will be like when he decides to hang 'em up.  The verdict: Not so hot.

From when he took over as the starting catcher (May 17th) to the present, Francisco Cervelli has posted an uninspiring .194/.293/.222 slash.  Obviously Cervelli isn't that bad of a hitter, nor is he as good of a hitter as his near .400 average for most of the month of April and early May would have lead you to believe.  We're still dealing with the small sample size monster, but I'm pretty confident that he's somewhere in between.  And I tend not to put a ton of stock in CERA, or applying the pitcher's success to the catcher (I think it's 95% smoke and mirrors), but since May 17th, the Yankees have given up an average of 4.54 runs/game, which is actually an increase from the overall season average of 3.98 runs/game.

Cervelli is an absolutely terrific back up catcher, as he provides defense, enthusiasm, handles the staff well, and has the ability to draw a walk or slap a single, but given the amount of talent building in the minors at the catching position, and the amount of miles still left in Posada's tank, I don't think he's going to be spending much more time as a primary catcher for the Yankees.

So yeah, I'm going to talk about Montero and Romine after the jump.

Stop me if you've heard either of these statements before: Jesus Montero has a Miguel Cabrera-like, major-league ready bat, the only question is whether or not he'll be able to stick at catcher.  If Jesus Montero could at least get his catching to a level equal to Posada's, he could be a huge contributor for the Yankees.

I feel like I've heard both approximately 10,000 times, but let's think about them, for they do have some validity.  As the youngest player in the International League (still just 20) and having absolutely torn the cover off the ball at every level up to AA, Jesus is considered a special bat by a bunch of people who know a ton more about scouting than I do.  So what's up with his current .222/.299/.344 ugliness at the AAA level?  Is it the better competition?  Is he pressing? Swinging at bad pitches? Actually, not really.

Looking a little deeper at Jesus's stats, via his page on Minor League Splits, showed me a bunch of interesting things.  For one, despite hitting line drives at a solid clip of 19%, Jesus is sporting a microscopic BABIP of .252.  He also has only 3 HR on 43 fly balls hit to the outfield.  Both of these should regress upwards considerably.  Furthermore, Jesus also has drawn 21 walks in 210 plate appearances (10%), while striking out only 38 times (18%).  He's putting the ball in play, and hitting a good percentage of line drives, the batting numbers will fall into line.

[His minor league splits page is a few games behind, but it was the only place I could find some of those ratios]

Now, about his defense.  I don't mean to burst anyone's bubble, but he isn't going to play a corner infield position with Tex and A-Rod cemented in there, and we aren't just going to stick him in the outfield and see how he does.  There has been way too much talk of him being the "catcher of the future" and how important his develop is to the organization to just stick him in right field and hope he turns out OK out there.  Maybe when Tex is gone, he plays some 1B, but if Jesus comes up and plays with the Yankees, his time will primarily be as a catcher or as a DH.

So far, Montero has allowed approximately 1 stolen base per game, and is throwing out runners at a 20.6% clip (for reference, Posada throws out runners at a 28.9% throughout his career, Cervelli at 28.2%,) to go with 9 passed balls and 4 errors, so he hasn't been terribly great in this department, but I don't have a ton of faith in AAA pitchers holding the runner on.  For a 20 year old, I'm not going to say Montero's defense isn't fixable, but it's not MLB ready either.

And as always, eternally overshadowed is Austin Romine, who is hitting extremely well at AA (.299/.367/.439 with a 20.4 LD%), and is excellently interviewed by Travis here.  So with the glut of young catching talent in the organization with Cervelli, Montero, Romine, and even guys like Gary Sanchez, what is to be done?

Keep them in the minors.  Don't look to unload prospects.  It isn't a logjam.  The absolute wrong thing to do would be to sell low on any of these guys, especially with Posada and Cervelli holding down the fort at the major league level (assuming Jorge keeps Father Time at bay for a little while longer), there really is no rush to get any of them up to the major league level.  Let all of these guys season in the minors, and the best players will rise to the top.

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