The New York Yankees are built around star power from top to bottom. However, every roster has room for a good story or two, a gritty veteran who grinds out at-bats, gives it his all in the field, and always has his teammates’ backs. Enter Austin Romine. A second-round pick by the Yankees 11 years ago and touted as the heir apparent to Jorge Posada, Romine has instead carved out a niche as a trusty backup catcher, a role for which he is perfectly cast.
At age 29, Romine completed his fourth full MLB season and set career-highs across the board. No, his numbers weren’t flashy, but for Romine, they represented a career year. He’s an average backup catcher offensively, slightly above-average defensively, and well above-average in the clubhouse.
2018 Statistics: 77 games, 265 plate appearances, .244/.295/.417, 10 home runs, 42 RBI, 30 runs, 22 extra-base hits, 0.8 WAR, 91 wRC+
2019 Contract Status: Arbitration-eligible, under contract until 2020
Romine had his best season to date in 2018. He started off on a tear, slashing .329/.400/.571 through June 19. Though he slowed down after the All-Star break, he kept up his power push and continued to produce in the clutch. Romine finished the season slashing .295/.361/.443 with runners in scoring position, and also picked up 30 of his 42 RBI with ducks on the pond. Thanks to a change in approach, Romine became a different hitter this year. He showed improved patience, made more hard contact, and hit most of his balls to the opposite field.
His biggest impact this season came while Gary Sanchez missed two months with injuries. While the dropoff from Sanchez to Romine was felt, the scrappy veteran held his own. Romine wasn’t altering games the way that Sanchez is capable of, but he wasn’t the worst alternative.
Although Romine’s offense was a nice story this year, Romine’s true value is felt behind the plate. According to StatCorner, Romine isn’t a great pitch framer, but he does make up for it with his arm and his blocking. After years of having a below-average arm, Romine threw out a career-best 16 runners this year and caught 26.2 percent of would-be base-stealers. Those figures were both career-bests.
Romine is also an excellent blocker. Only nine catchers who caught at least 600 innings allowed fewer passed balls than Romine’s five, and Romine’s 17 wild pitches were also the least of the 30 catchers who caught 600 frames. Meanwhile, Sanchez led the league in passed balls and allowed the fifth-most wild pitches in almost the same amount of innings. This isn’t meant to be an indictment of Gary Sanchez’s defense, but it does show just how valuable Romine is behind the dish.
Moving forward, we kind of know what to expect from Romine in 2019. He’ll slash somewhere around .245/.290/.360, play solid defense, and be a solid foot soldier. No, he’s not what he was expected to be when he was drafted, but he’s developed into a competent backup catcher that Aaron Boone should have no issue putting out on the field once or twice a week to give Gary Sanchez a rest. He’s no superstar, but Austin Romine is an important piece on the 2019 Yankees, and he deserves a championship ring after his long journey to the pros.