Name: Austin Romine
Age as of Opening Day 2013: 24 (born on 11/22/1988)
Height: 6'1" Weight: 195 lbs.
Remaining Contract: Arbitration eligible 2015, Free Agent 2019
2012 Statistics: (AAA) 17 games, .213/.296/.393, 3 HRs, .310 wOBA, 89 wRC+
The Yankees 'top' catching prospect is Austin Romine and by 'top' I mean oldest and closest to the majors. Even with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart as the catchers for the big league club, Romine was deemed inferior and tossed back to Triple-A. Sure, he was hurt for most of 2012 and didn't get much time there, but he wasn't even a serious consideration for a spot on the team. He's either that bad or they really care about him getting regular work. I'll be nice and say the latter.
Austin Romine has fallen a long way since 2011 when he was considered the defensive guru to Jesus Montero's offensive juggernaut. His perceived ability to actually be a catcher made him the favorite and even an equal to Montero's prospect status. At one point it even looked like Romine would be a consistent hitter for a catcher, but since his time in Charleston and Tampa he's been slipping and now he's been injured a few times and hasn't played much. Now he's a catcher with a questionable offensive game and a bad back. No wonder he wasn't ever really an option to make the team this year.
It can't be all bad for Romine. He did make it to the big leagues in 2011 and was trusted enough to play in nine games. He has the potential to hit around 10 home runs a season and he can field his position just fine, which is something that the Yankees want from their catchers. If it wasn't for the time off from injury he could have likely won a job on the team, considering his competition. The Yankees don't seem to be in a hurry with him so he'll get a chance to prove that he's healthy and that he can actually hit at the higher levels.
Romine could easily make it up to the Bronx sometime during the season if he can tap into anything that the Yankees are hoping him to be or if someone gets hurt. He can't be any worse than Cervelli or Stewart and he's only 24, so he could even get better. If he makes it up to the majors it will be as the starting catcher. Even if his future is as a backup, which is likely, the Yankees won't pigeonhole him as a backup until someone better comes along. They might also insist he's a starter anyway based on how well he can be behind the plate. The Yankees love their defensive catchers and Romine is kind of like that, especially since he can't hit much. He could be instrumental in getting the ball to the next franchise catcher and 2013 could be the year to start that bridge.
Gary Sanchez is the catcher of the future, and JR Murphy could prove to be an interesting wildcard, but Austin Romine is the catcher of the present, or the near-present, or the backup catcher of the near-present. Austin Romine is something, if only he could be healthy long enough for someone to figure out what.