The Yankees enter spring training with only two catchers, neither with minor league options, on their 40-man roster. While solid prospects are coming through the A-ball level for the franchise, they currently have a lack of catching prospects at the upper levels of the minors. To bridge that gap, the Yankees have turned to two veterans who possess a wealth of experience behind the plate. They should help the young pitching staff at Triple-A while at the same time give the Yankees the catching depth that they will likely need during the season.
Countless pitchers have credited their catchers as being a key part of their success. In recent years notable, former Yankees David Cone and CC Sabathia have been vocal about catchers providing them with useful advice early in their careers. Veteran catchers can help pitchers get through games when they do not have their best stuff, while imparting knowledge gained from years of toil behind home plate.
The Yankees are doubling down on the experience factor this coming season as they have signed both Erik Kratz and Chris Iannetta to minor league contracts that could see them splitting time behind the plate for the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders. Throughout the spring and into the season, they will be tasked with managing a pitching staff full of talented prospects on the cusp of their first major league experience, along with others who are trying to find a way to stick.
Iannetta has been a major league regular since 2006, playing for the Rockies, Angles, Mariners, and Diamondbacks during his career. Over that span he has caught in 1,122 regular season games and made three trips to the playoffs.
Known more for his bat than his defense, he has posted an average 100 wRC+ during his career. With his bat in decline, however, it’s hard to find a spot for the 36-year-old, who has never been a defensive stalwart.
Iannetta does have experience working in some of the least friendly parks for pitchers during his time with the Rockies and Diamondbacks. His experience there can be useful in the International League, which saw an incredible surge in offense last season when they switched to the major league ball. Many prospects stepped up to Triple-A and quickly saw their ERA figures rise through the ceiling as they adjusted to a new ball, much in the way pitchers have struggled with pitching in Coors Field.
Erik Kratz returns to the Yankees organization, and likely the same Scranton team that he finished 2019 with. Last September he had the biggest hit of Scranton’s season when he popped a two-run double to cap an eight-run rally that pushed the team into the playoffs. Overall, he’s played in 316 major league games over parts of ten seasons. He’s also caught 901 games at the Double-A level and Triple-A level for various franchises.
Despite his offensive heroics from last year, Kratz has never been known for his bat, running just a 61 wRC+ over his major league career. He has made up for that with his defense, as he has been credited with 20 defensive runs saved over his major league career.
While both of these catchers are past their physical prime, their wealth of experience behind the plate gives them a unique perspective that they can share with rising top Yankees prospects such as Deivi Garcia, and Clarke Schmidt when he reaches Triple-A at some point this season. Iannetta and Kratz will become an extension of the pitching coach and manager as they dip into their knowledge gained from years behind the plate to accelerate the learning curves of these talented young arms.