It’s easy to get lost in Aaron Judge’s shadow — both figuratively and literally. If you’re standing in an open plain and want some respite from the blistering sun, standing next to Judge is the way to go; you’ll have plenty of shade from the 6-foot-7 man’s shadow.
While I cannot say whether or not the comparatively-diminutive Gosuke Katoh (he’s 6-foot-2) has ever physically stood in Aaron Judge’s shadow, he has spent the majority of his minor league career lost in the depths of the Yankees’ farm system. Drafted out of high school in the second round of the 2013 amateur draft — the year in which the Yankees selected Judge with one of their three first-round picks — the infielder-turned-utilityman Katoh was once a noted prospect in the Yankees farm system.
Now in his seventh year in the organization, much of the luster has come off Katoh. Heading into this year, he had not strung together consecutive good seasons with the bat. Now at 24 years old, he is not even listed among the team’s top 30 prospects. While not entirely his fault, due to the much better state of the farm system, it’s nonetheless a sign of how his stock has fallen. Despite his rough stats, the Yankees have continued to bring him along through the system, and he began 2019 — quite possibly a make-or-break year for him — at Triple-A Scranton.
Katoh has answered the call admirably in the early goings of the season, posting a .350/.416/.663 line through 22 games. His 170 wRC+ is by far his highest since his season in the Gulf Coast League in 2013. He has already beaten his career high in home runs with seven, and he has been hitting extra-base hits at an almost 40% clip, up from his career average of 32%.
Should he continue this hot start to the season, Katoh could find his way to the Bronx at some point, using his bat to jump Tyler Wade and Thairo Estrada on the totem pole. His ability to play all positions in the infield, including shortstop, without being a black hole with the bat would provide extra protection for a Yankees offense that constantly needs to make repairs to keep its motor running.
That said, Yankees fans need to take Katoh’s success with a grain of salt at the moment, as there are numerous signs that his performance is not sustainable. Most notably, his BABIP is .467, more than 150 points higher than his career average of .299. While this value would certainly see an increase if he were hitting the ball harder than he had been, a .467 mark is still unsustainable and will see at least some regression.
Furthermore, his HR/FB ratio is a staggering 30.4%, up from 4% from last season and more than twice his previous best of 13.9% in 2015. While the Yankees hope that Katoh’s breakout is legitimate, he does not profile to have the bat of a J.D. Martinez or a Christian Yelich. Some regression is pretty much certain.
Taking all these stats into consideration, Yankees fans can be cautiously optimistic that Katoh may have turned a corner this season. Fans must remember, however, that prospects by definition are unproven, and that many former players looked to as possible reinforcements, such as Rob Refsnyder in previous years, cannot translate their minor league performance to the big league level. As encouraging as his stats may be, Katoh represents the quintessential “anything can happen” prospect.