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The lone weakness in the Yankees’ farm system

The Yankees have a deep system, but are thin on catching prospects.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workout Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Depending on who you ask, the Yankees either have the best farm system in baseball, or one of the top three. Keith Law recently ranked the organization as the second best in the league, only behind the Atlanta Braves. In fact, six prospects make his top 100 list. Jim Callis thinks the Yankees take the top spot, boasting a system with both depth and impact potential.

The Yankees have multiple prospects at nearly every position. Need starting pitching? There’s James Kaprielian and Justus Sheffield, with Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams knocking on the door. Do you like outfielders? Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford headline a list that also features Dustin Fowler, Jake Cave, and Billy McKinney. That’s not to mention the small army of middle infield prospects. The future looks bright in the Bronx.

There is one area, however, where the Yankees’ system could use improvement. That’s at catcher, where the once heralded depth has thinned considerably. In previous years, Brian Cashman was able to trade catchers to address roster needs because the pipeline was loaded. That’s why the Jesus Montero, Francisco Cervelli, and John Ryan Murphy trades happened. Now, after the promotion of Gary Sanchez and the loss of Luis Torrens in the Rule Five Draft, the organization should be on the hunt for catching prospects.

As things stand, Kyle Higashioka headlines the list Yankees minor league backstops. The 26-year-old split time between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He hit .250/.306/.514 in 39 games with the RailRiders, good for a 131 wRC+. “A name not to forget,” is how Cashman described Higashioka. He very well could compete with Austin Romine for the backup catcher job in spring training. That said, Higashioka has a lengthy injury history, including a Tommy John surgery that cost him most of the 2013-2014 seasons. He’s rebounded nicely in the years since, but durability questions will inevitably linger.

After Higashioka, Donny Sands profiles as the Yankees’ best catching prospect. The 20-year-old converted third baseman was selected in the eight round of the 2015 draft. In 30 games at the rookie level in 2016, Sands hit .286/.328/.375 with two home runs. According to his scouting report, Sands has a “precocious feel for controlling the barrel”. He’s an intriguing prospect, but one at rookie ball. It will be some time before he reaches the upper minors.

The rest of the list is rather uninspiring. Santiago Nessy is as light hitting as they come. Eduardo Navas and Audie Afenir are also years way. The Yankees might have to bring in journeyman backstops to catch in the upper minors. Whereas the other positions are stacked with top prospects, catching is noticeably anemic.

It’s important to remember, however, that some of the thinning depth is the result of success. Gary Sanchez graduated and emerged as one of the premier young catchers in the big leagues. There’s also a distinct possibility that Torrens will be returned to the Yankees at some point this season. A catcher who never played above A-ball doesn’t figure to stick on a 25-man roster all season long, even if that roster belongs to the Padres. There’s no guarantee here, but better than most Rule Five Draft odds.

It’s without question that the Yankees have dynamic farm system. That’s a consensus opinion. There is, however, an area of improvement. The organization could use better catching depth. The situation is by no mean bleak or dire, but worth discussion. It’s also one that is easy to remedy. One can expect the Yankees to draft catchers this year. Until then, the organization will hope for the catching crop to step forward and match the other positional prospects.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and