Back in the 2018 MLB Draft, the Yankees went hard at the catching position. With their first pick, they took Anthony Seigler, a talented backstop who also did some pitching on the side. They then grabbed catcher Josh Breaux with their second pick, another player with experience on both sides of a battery, doubling down on filling out their system depth behind the plate.
Despite their respective draft slots, the two backstops have seen their fortunes flip. Assuming that Austin Wells follows Kyle Schwarber’s lead and fails to stick behind the plate, Breaux now profiles as the top Yankees’ prospect at catcher, while Seigler has slipped a bit in scouts’ minds. 2021 is sure to be an important season for Breaux, as it offers a chance to consolidate some of the gains he showed in 2019, and iron out the red flags that could keep him from producing at the highest level.
2019 Stats (Single-A Charleston): 216 PA, .271/.324/.518, 13 HR, 49 RBI, 27.3 K%, 6.9 BB%
2020 Stats (Independent League): 18 PA, .250/.333/.438, 1 HR, 5 RBI
Prospect Rankings (Yankees System): 19 (MLB.com), 25 (FanGraphs)
The Yankees picked Breaux as a sophomore out of McLennan Community College, a junior college in Waco, TX. At the time, Breaux drew praise for his strength, which showed itself in plus bat speed, quality raw power, and an excellent arm behind the plate.
That raw power started to translate on the field in 2019, with Breaux popping 13 homers across just 51 games in A-Ball.
Yet that power came with the swing-and-miss issues that have often plagued Breaux. He struck out 59 times against 15 walks that season, leaving his ability as an all-around batter in question.
Given how low the bar for hitting has fallen at the catching position, however, Breaux doesn’t necessarily need to develop elite plate discipline skills. He just needs to find a way to remain a defensively competent catcher. That essentially leaves Breaux with a couple paths towards major-league competence; develop enough bat-to-ball and OBP expertise that his bat plays at any position, or find his footing on defense to a point that the Yankees can look past the whiffs on offense.
Breaux has a few standout athletic tools, lending at least some hope that he could stick at the most demanding defensive position on the diamond. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, Breaux has a strong, physical frame, and his top-tier arm in theory should allow him to deter opposing run games. He hasn’t had much pro experience at the catching position, so further development could certainly be on the cards, and some scouts noted improvements in his footwork and handling in 2019
On the other hand, Breaux’s arm reportedly has issues with consistency and accuracy, limiting his effectiveness in throwing out runners, and some scouts that saw him in 2019 indicated his blocking and framing were still below par. MLB Pipeline noted that Breaux “needs to improve his receiving and blocking”, while FanGraphs wrote that Breaux “has some footwork and exchange issues that can slow his release or impact throwing accuracy”.
Breaux has recorded just 347 professional innings at catcher; there are simply huge error bars on where he could end up as a defensive player. With strides, Breaux could profile on defense similar to Gary Sánchez on his best days, as a competent receiver and framer with a huge arm. On the low end, well, Breaux could look like Gary on his bad days, with shaky receiving more than nullifying the benefits a strong arm can provide.
Without notable improvements on defense, Breaux would have to continue refining his power stroke while becoming a more disciplined hitter at the plate. Given his pure power, and the fact that he raked as a 21-year-old at Charleston, it’s certainly plausible that Breaux could hit well enough to justify playing his bat at first or DH. With a complete lack of foot speed, those last positions on the defensive spectrum will be Breaux’s home should he ever leave the tools of ignorance behind.
Keep an eye on those twin development tracks for Breaux this season: whether he finds a more complete offensive profile, or whether he makes it clear he can handle the rigors of defense behind the plate. Success in either category would leave the Yankees with a very interesting prospect. As with many prospects, Breaux may be facing an uphill climb after a mostly lost 2020, but 2021 provides a chance to keep on moving up the team’s prospect rankings and toward the majors.