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The Yankees’ backup catcher will play more than the average substitute in 2020

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If there’s a season, Kyle Higashioka will take advantage of Gary Sanchez’ injury history and the Bombers’ desire to keep him fresh

MLB: FEB 25 Spring Training - Yankees at Blue Jays (ss) Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As of right now, there has been no agreement between MLB and the players’ association about compensation and amount of games to play in the still-hypothetical 2020 season. At this point, playing 100 games in virtually impossible, and the final number, if there is one, will likely fall between 45 and 60.

We are already in mid-June, however, and with the need of at least a couple of weeks for a second spring training (or shall we say “summer training”?) the season probably won’t start before early-to-mid July. That leaves precious little time for games to be played and very few off days.

The likely compressed schedule will result in all teams rotating arms and position players to manage rest and the physical burden, the Yankees being no exception. And you have to think starting catchers — the most physically demanding position in the diamond — will likely have a few more days of rest than your average infielder or outfielder.

The Yankees’ starting catcher is Gary Sanchez, and deservingly so. There is no other backstop on the roster capable of rivaling his talent or offensive output. However, he hasn’t exactly been the poster child for health in his big league tenure.

Since entering the league in 2015, the Kraken’s highest output when it comes to games played is 122, back in 2017. He participated in just 106 games last season and in 89 the year before.

Sanchez has suffered strains in both his left and right groin, he has nursed a strained right biceps, a left calf strain, back issues and more during his big league career. There’s also the fact that the Yankees will want to rest and keep him fresh for the playoffs, opening the door for Kyle Higashioka to take a sizable percentage of the catching reps.

Of course, Sanchez is the starter and that won’t change unless he is injured. But Higashioka figures to be the backup above the likes of Chris Iannetta and Eric Kratz, and he will play his fair share of games given the situation.

Can Higgy take advantage of an enhanced opportunity?

By now, we suspect and imagine that Higgy will play more than your average backup catcher in 2020. But will he take advantage of the opportunity?

If we take a quick look at his numbers in MLB action, the 30-year-old doesn’t inspire much. In 56 games and 156 plate appearances, he has an underwhelming .164/.212/.336 line with six homers, a 5.1 BB% and a 30.8 K%.

Last season, he didn’t walk and struck out 26 times for an ugly ratio, and while he managed to sock three homers and slug .464, his average was a meager .214. He is far from the offensive star that Sanchez is, but there might be something in his profile that says he is better than what he has shown so far in the bigs.

Higashioka has put up a 100 wRC+ or better in the minors several times in limited action. And, perhaps more encouragingly, he had a .278/.348/.581 line in 270 Triple-A plate appearances last season, with 20 homers in 70 games.

Every time he has been called up and needed in the majors, he has shown that his glove belongs. For example, in just 18 games with the Yankees last season, he had a -1.9 offensive rating per Fangraphs, but his defense was at +3.7. The year before, it was at +3.0, again in limited reps.

For now, Higashioka is the backup who will play at least a couple of times per week for the Yankees. But watch out, because if an injury were to knock Sanchez out of action, Higgy’s true offensive abilities will be put to test. Will he step up?