Entering the 2019 season, Luis Cessa had no more minor league options available. He was essentially locked onto the major league roster for the entire season, as the Yankees would have to expose him to waivers in the event that they wanted to demote him. This dynamic seemed to benefit Cess rather than hurt him as he had a solid season for the Bombers, and even played a role in their postseason run. Now, as we head into the 2020 season, Kyle Higashioka slides into a similar situation, with hopes of benefiting from increased playing time at the highest level.
Cessa just completed arguably the best season of his career. He broke personal-bests in innings pitched, ERA, strikeouts per nine, and total strikeouts. A lot of his success can be related back to the fact that he pitched without the fear of being sent down to Scranton, which undoubtedly had to boost his confidence. Just think about how much of a toll it takes on a player when they’re being sent up and down, and their playing time and role vacillates because of it. Because Cessa pitched at the major league level on a consistent basis, he elevated his game and was allowed to make himself comfortable on the biggest stage.
With Austin Romine’s departure, Higashioka now has the backup role behind Gary Sanchez. Higashioka has spent some time in that position before due to injuries, but he has never had a consistent spot on the team thus far. Obviously, that will change as he will be behind the plate in the Bronx for a large chunk of the season barring injury.
Higashioka has had some interesting experiences in the little time he’s had up in the bigs. In 2017, he started his career off hitless in his first 22 at-bats. It was an ugly beginning that could not have helped his confidence starting out. He was sent back down to the minor leagues, left with a bad taste in his mouth after a dreadful debut. He was eventually called back up a year later in 2018, to much different results. His first hit in the bigs was a home run off of David Price. His confidence was high and he played reasonably well in the 29 games he appeared in. He finished the year with three homers and flashed some potential.
He appeared with the big league squad last season as well, but this time, for just 18 games. Again, he hit three long balls and even drove in 11 runs. The Yankees have to hope that since they will be forced to give Higashioka time to play on a more consistent basis, he’ll be able to develop a more consistent standard of play. With regular starts behind the plate spelling Sanchez, this is Higashioka’s best chance to reach his potential yet.
We just saw what increased opportunity and consistent playing time did for Cessa in 2019. Hopefully, the same will hold true for Higashioka. A lack of minor league options might sound ominous, but in practice, it really could be a confidence booster. If all goes well, the Yankees will again have a quality backup for their franchise catcher.