2016 Statistics: .276/.337/.511, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 0 SB, 416 PA
2016 Level/Roster Status: Double-A/Triple-A/Non-40
The Yankees drafted Kyle Higashioka out of Edison High School in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB Draft. Although he was a mediocre hitter during his first several seasons in the minors, Higashioka worked his way up to Trenton in 2012. Between 2013 and 2014, Higashioka played in just 24 minor league games after he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery. Then when he was on the brink of returning, he ended up breaking his thumb and missing another two months. Once he was finally healthy, Higashioka spent the majority of the 2015 season in Tampa (along with a handful of games in Scranton) and hit .250/.299/.367.
Now 26, Higashioka started this season back in Trenton once again. Seemingly out of nowhere, he showed up as a whole new batter. Having previously hit no more than eight home runs in a season, Higashioka hit 11 through 63 games in Trenton. He hit .293/.355/.509 in Double-A, and was even named the Eastern League Player of the Week in June after hitting four home runs and knocking in 12 RBI over the course of the week.
After filling in here and there when needed, Higashioka finally took over as the starting catcher in Scranton after Gary Sanchez was promoted for good. He was able to continue that impressive display of power in Triple-A, mashing 10 home runs through 148 at-bats. Higashioka wasn’t able to put together as many hits in Scranton as he did in Trenton, but still hit .250/.306/.514. He finished the season with 21 home runs, putting him in a two-way tie (!!) with Chris Gittens for the most home runs hit in the Yankees’ organization.
This year Higashioka is Rule 5 Draft eligible, but Brian Cashman has already stated that Higashioka will be added to the 40-man roster. That leaves the Yankees with a plethora of catchers on the 40-man including Gary Sanchez, Brian McCann and Austin Romine. With Sanchez set to be the starting catcher next season, it appears that the Yankees will look to move one of their catchers over the offseason. There were rumors about McCann possibly being traded during the season, but Romine appears to be the weakest link. Perhaps Brian Cashman should make a call to the Pirates.
Since Higashioka only has half a season of Triple-A under his belt, he will likely start 2017 back in Scranton. It is impossible to say whether he will be able to hit like this again next year, but he is someone to keep an eye on. Defensive metrics are shaky at best, but scouts have had good things to say about Higashioka’s abilities behind the plate in the past. If he can continue to combine decent defense with the kind of hitting that he displayed this year then Higashioka could find himself as the Yankees’ backup catcher at some point in the future.