Finding a player who can handle the physical demands of catching while still providing a lift to the team in other areas is not an easy task. In recent years, the Yankees have sought to strengthen the position by using high-draft picks and making big international free agent signings in the area. From a pure prospect rankings perspective, it is one of the strongest positions in the Yankees’ system, bolstered by high-upside prospects who could rise quickly through the system. Let’s take a look at the catching position across the Yankee organization.
In the 2020 Major League Baseball amateur draft, the Yankees selected University of Arizona catcher Austin Wells in the first round. It was actually the second time the Yankees drafted the lefty-swinging Wells, as they had taken him with a late-round pick when he was first eligible for the draft out of high school.
Considered an advanced bat, he recorded more walks than strikeouts in his college career while posting a 1.035 OPS against good Division-1 competition. While every scouting report expects Wells’ bat to continue to produce as a professional, the questions about his game revolve around his defense.
An elbow injury during his senior year of high school limited Wells’ time behind the plate, and scouts have not seen the same arm strength that he displayed previously. The Yankees have not waivered in their belief that Wells can be a long-term catcher, and he is currently taking a vast majority of the games behind the plate for Low-A Tampa.
The Yankees taking a catcher in the first round of the 2020 draft was a little surprising to some, as it came on the heels of the 2018 draft where the team selected catchers in the first and second rounds. Both Anthony Seigler and Josh Breaux were brought into the organization in 2018 and currently remain at the Class-A levels.
The Yankees popped Seigler first, a high-school catcher from Georgia. Known for his athletic ability and strong throwing arm(s) behind the plate, Seigler has the potential to develop into a plus defensive catcher. Seigler’s unique athletic skills saw him pitch both left-handed and right-handed in high-school. He was also seen dropping his glove to make a throw left-handed while fielding a bunt.
After being slowed by an assortment of injuries, including a broken kneecap that ended his 2019 season, Seigler has recorded just 223 plate appearances and is hitting .214/.351/.264 as a professional. Some questions have emerged regarding whether he will hit enough to progress through the system, but his body of work is still very small. He started this season on the injured list but has just recently made his season debut with High-A Hudson Valley.
Drafted a round after Seigler, Breaux is another solid catching prospect the Yankees have coming through the system. After nearly hitting triple-digits with his fastball as a relief pitcher in college, Breaux prefers the work he gets behind the plate.
Much like Wells, there have been questions since his draft day as to Breaux’s ability to stick behind the plate long term. With Breaux, the ambiguity generally stems from his foot work and blocking techniques. Breaux has also battled some injuries since the draft, as he was sidelined in 2019 with a sore elbow. While he was able to return from the injury during the season, it limited him to DH duties for the rest of the year.
What he lacks in defensive efficiency, he makes up for with a very powerful bat. Breaux crushed 13 home runs in just 51 games for Low-A Charleston in 2019. He is off to a slow start with High-A Hudson Valley this season but has seen his bat come to life over the last five games. With both Seigler and Breaux back on the field, the Yankees will have to balance their playing time to make sure both players continue to develop behind the plate.
Catcher Josh Breaux picks up his first base hit of the spring against the Phillies in Clearwater. pic.twitter.com/g0kYMa0hrO— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) March 4, 2021
Just a month after drafting Seigler and Breaux, the Yankees also acquired highly-touted catching prospect Antonio Gomez through international free agency. Known for his elite throwing arm, Gomez is considered by most to be the best defensive catching prospect in the Yankees system. Still just 19-years-old, he will likely start the season in the Gulf Coast League when they begin action at the end of June.
Also in the Yankees’ system are some prospects who are continuing to climb the system and could be on the team’s radar in the near future. Donny Sands was drafted as a third baseman before the Yankees transitioned him behind the plate starting in 2016. The bat seems to be coming around for Sands, who is slashing .288/.389/.475 through his first 23 games.
It should perhaps come as no surprise that Sands is performing well this season, as his hitting coach for the last two seasons, Joe Migliaccio, mentioned his improvements in-season in 2019, “first half to second half, he went through a mechanical change and was able to hit the ball on a line in the air, hit the ball harder, and just produced way better.”
Lower on the organizational depth chart, Carlos Narvaez has a career .370 OBP and has thrown out 39 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him in his career. Despite just a .185 average this season, he is still getting on base right near his career rate with a .369 OBP for Low-A Tampa.
The Yankees have a solid core of young catching prospects through their minor league system. The position has a high attrition rate, as it is one of the most physically demanding on the baseball field. Following the lost minor league season, both the Yankees organization and fans will be looking to see which one, if any, of these prospects can separate themselves from the pack.