Before spring training began, the Yankees signed a slew of veteran catchers such as Erik Kratz, Chris Iannetta, and Josh Thole. Not to mention the handful of other names that were invited to camp as well. Because Kyle Higashioka had minimal major-league experience, the Yankees virtually held an open tryout to compete to be the backup behind Gary Sanchez. It’s safe to say that Higgy will win the battle, if it’s not already over.
What if I told you that the second-longest tenured Yankee has only played 56 career games in the big leagues? Well, Higashioka is that guy. Being in the system with the team since 2008, it was a slow process for Higgy, taking him nine years to finally get his first at-bat under the bright lights of New York. Although, he did start out his MLB career by going 0-for-25 before mashing his first hit, a home run off of David Price and the Boston Red Sox.
Once spring training comes to a close, Higashioka, who will turn 30 in April, will finally be presented with the biggest role of his career as the second-string backstop in 2020. The Yankees took precautions by bringing in a bunch of experience catchers for the spring, but by their lack of aggressiveness to re-sign Austin Romine, it shows the trust they have in Higashioka and his potential.
“We feel like he’s been ready for this opportunity for awhile now,” Aaron Boone said. “He understands, I think, that this is his time.”
Not only does Higashioka feel like this is his time, but he’s also proved it on the field so far. It didn’t really even matter what the other catchers did during the spring. As long as Higgy showed the Yankees something they liked, he would get the job. This spring, he has recorded five hits in eight games, including a pair of home runs. Along with that, he owns a .912 OPS and a .333 on-base percentage. It’s pretty easy to understand why the race for the backup catcher role is all but over.
Higgy is also regarded as a great defensive catcher as well, and seems to be even better behind the plate than Romine is. Higashioka is an excellent pitch framer. A career 5.9 FRM rating and three DRS in the majors stacks up well against Romine as he owns a career 2.7 FRM rating and -3 DRS. Yes, Romine has been in the league a whole lot longer, but Higgy has shown it in the minor-league level as well.
Gary Sanchez was scratched from the lineup on Saturday. Injuries are no stranger to Sanchez, as he’s played 317 games out of 486 over the last three seasons. That’s over a full season of missed games. If he continues to have trouble staying on the field in 2020, Higashioka will be put into an even bigger role. The more at-bats he gets, the more comfortable he should feel at the plate. The Yankees seem to trust Higashioka if put into that situation.
Higashioka hasn’t proved much in his 56 major-league games throughout his career, but after nearly a decade in the minors, this is his best opportunity yet and he seems like he’s ready for it. The Yankees should be confident in their options behind the plate in 2020.