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The Yankees catching prospects still have a lot to prove

The Yankees have invested in the catching position, but the expected payoff is still several years away at least.

MILB: JUN 25 Gulf Coast League - GCL Yankees East at GCL Yankees West Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Today we will take a look at the young catchers coming through the Yankees minor league system as we continue our position-by-position look at the Yankees organization. With the dynamic arrival of Gary Sanchez at the major league level in 2016 it looked like the Yankees would be set behind the plate for the foreseeable future. The Yankees still see Sanchez as a cornerstone of the championship caliber roster they have built, but with the departure of Austin Romine, and the exhaustion of Kyle Higashioka’s minor league options, the depth behind Sanchez has grown thin.

The Yankees have invested in the position over the last few years, but the results of those investments are still several years from manifesting as real major league depth. Their major investment with catchers began with the 23rd pick in the 2018 draft, when they selected prep catcher Anthony Seigler out of Cartersville, GA. Seigler had a solid debut with the Yankees Gulf Coast League affiliate and the Rookie-Advanced Pulaski Yankees following the draft. The tools and performance he displayed saw him rise in the rankings to the number four prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America following the season.

Seigler’s ascension through the Yankees system hit a snag in 2019 as he battled multiple injuries and was limited to just 30 games. More alarming was that he was not very productive in the games he played. Scouting evaluations have not been as kind to Seigler after his first taste of full-season minor league ball, but with only a small sample size sandwiched between injuries the young switch-hitting catcher still has a chance to make a mark in the system.

Doubling down on the position of need in 2018, the Yankees drafted Josh Breaux with their second round pick. Breaux was coming off two seasons of junior college, but still deemed a rather raw catching prospect as his strong throwing arm and athletic ability had seen him play around the diamond through high-school and into college.

Like many members of the Yankees organization in 2019, Breaux was on the injured list for a significant amount of time. He was limited mostly to duty as the designated hitter when he did play, due to the arm injury that had sent him to the IL. This development will likely slow his progression as a catcher, where he needs to log as many repetitions to catch up with the nuances of the position. Breaux’s power didn’t suffer from the setback, however, as he hit for 13 home runs in just 51 games, leading the Low-A Charleston RiverDogs.

The Yankees backed up their 2018 draft a month later, signing highly regarded Antonio Gomez on July 2nd when the international signing period opened for the year. Gomez is touted as an advanced defensive catcher with a rifle for an arm. He displayed that by throwing out 50 percent of the runners that tried to run on him in his debut season in the Gulf Coast League. Entering his age-17 season in 2019, he too suffered an injury and only played sparingly last year.

Carlos Narvaez played with Short-Season A Staten Island, and was selected to the NY-Penn League All-Star game in 2019. He has put up solid numbers coming through the system, registering a career .281/.370/.347 line in 145 games. In order for him to take another step forward in his progression he will have to start hitting for more power as his anemic slugging percentage could be a factor that holds him back. He just turned 21 this offseason and has also thrown out 42 percent of baserunners in his career.

22-year-old Colombian catcher Gustavo Campero has hit .296/.407/.472 in three seasons since joining the Yankees organization as an 18-year-old. So far he has peaked at Pulaski, and is slightly older than many of his peers. The age factor comes from signing two years later than many others on the international market. While he has produced with his bat the Yankees have not rushed him through the system, indicating that he is still very much a work in progress.

There are a handful of other notables. Mickey Gasper, a late round pick in 2018 out of Bryant University, was promoted to Tampa this season. He has seen significant time at first base, as he has shared time on the roster with Seigler and Breaux. Kellin Deglan put together a solid season for Double-A Trenton this season, but at 27-years-old he is more of a journeyman than a prospect to watch. Jason Lopez was a well regarded catcher when he signed with the Yankees as an international free agent in 2014. As recently as 2018 he put up a solid .285/.330/.453 line through 72 games with Charleston, but that success has not translated to Tampa where he has only produced a .590 OPS in 84 games.

The lack of close-to-the-majors prospects has shown itself, as the Yankees have signed players like Erik Kratz and Chris Iannetta to minor league deals this offseason. One healthy season could put Breaux and Seigler in the top rung of Yankees prospects, but with the delays to the season each prospects development could be affected in different ways.

Catcher is not the strongest position in the Yankees system, but it is also far from its weakest. With three catchers routinely ranked in their top-30 prospects by various organizations the Yankees have a wave of talent coming through the systems. They have also been linked to two of the better catchers set to become international free agents this summer. For now the Yankees will count on Gary Sanchez with some recognizable names behind him, and hope that the talent they have brought takes the necessary steps forward in the next few years.