After the end of the 2016 season, Yankees fans thought the catching position was largely settled for the next decade. Gary Sánchez’s breakout campaign was followed by another strong year before he declined and became a lightning rod for Yankees fans’ frustrations over the last several years. In the meantime, the Yankees have used high draft picks and significant international bonus pool resources to bring in strong amateur catchers who now frequently rank among the team’s top 30 prospects. So how does the catching depth across the Yankees’ system?
With the 28th overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft, the Yankees selected left-handed hitting catcher Austin Wells from the University of Arizona. Known as a bat-first receiver, that reputation has remained in place in wake of his first professional season with the Yankees.
Wells’ bat earned strong reviews as he posted above-league-average numbers for Low-A Tampa and High-A Hudson Valley. The Yankees then selected Wells for the Arizona Fall League, where his 1.034 OPS ranked fifth in the prospect-heavy environment.
2-run blast from the #Yankees Austin Wells makes this a 3-2 game! pic.twitter.com/MbD9XmeNod— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) November 19, 2021
The knocks on Wells revolve around his defensive ability. He threw out just 13 percent of runners stealing against him, the lowest of the four catchers who played for Low-A Tampa last season. There are scouts who see Wells’ future in the corner of an outfield or at first base. To this point, the Yankees are committed to Wells behind the plate, but with an automated strike zone poised to take away the value of pitch framing in the coming years and new rules starting immediately to encourage stolen bases, the coming seasons could rapidly change the defensive metrics used to evaluate catchers.
Selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, Josh Breaux is known for having some of the best raw power in the Yankees. Breaux’s comprehensive offensive game clicked midseason, and in his final 37 games with High-A Hudson Valley, he hit .319/.383/.667 with 14 home runs. The jump to Double-A was tougher on Breaux, but he still slugged .500 in 26 games with six more long balls to his credit.
Josh Breaux (@Big_Boshy) blasts this one into the night sky pic.twitter.com/PGgi8jWM04— Hudson Valley Renegades (@HVRenegades) July 7, 2021
Breaux is not known for being a future Gold Glove winner behind the plate, but there are some reports that he is no longer the pure defensive project that he was when he was first drafted. Clocked at 100 mph off the mound in college, the team is still working on quickening his transfer to take advantage of his strong arm. Breaux will almost certainly start the season back with Double-A Somerset.
Drafted a round ahead of Breaux in 2018 was Anthony Seigler, a high school catcher from Georgia. With strong reviews as an all-around player, Seigler has battled injuries and played just 95 games across three seasons with the Yankees. Even on the field, he has struggled to perform, hitting just .217/.388/.324 and falling off most top prospect lists. There were some promising signs this past year, as he posted a 117 wRC+ over his final 17 games of the season before suffering another injury and missing the last month of the season.
One player who caught a lot of attention once he hit the field in 2021 was Antonio Gomez. A highly-ranked catcher in the 2018 international free agent class, Gomez is known for his elite throwing arm and his overall defensive ability behind the plate. This past season, Gomez raked in the Florida Complex League, hitting .305/.416/.474 in 29 games. That earned him a promotion to Low-A, where was unable to match that level of production, but showed scouts enough that reviews of his potential have been trending upwards as he enters his age-20 season.
Gomez will likely start the 2022 campaign back with High-A Tampa, but could easily be finishing the season at the High-A level.
Antonio Gomez makes an impressive pick and throws out a runner from his knees. That is an insane play. One of the if not the best catcher in the Yankees organization. pic.twitter.com/2AEr5zn3p2— Eli Fishman (@elijfishman) August 27, 2021
Playing alongside Gomez at times last season was recent Yankees draft pick Ben Rice. The Dartmouth product saw his college career cut short when the Ivy League canceled the 2021 season. He impressed Yankees scouts during his behind-the-scenes work and then again in a brief Cape Cod League stint before the draft. Rice only played 23 games in his professional debut, but his potential is intriguing to evaluators, as despite his limited college game experience, the Yankees still liked his tools enough to draft him in the middle rounds.
Another player who periodically split time with Gomez and Rice was Alex Guerrero. An 18th-round draft pick in 2018, Guerrero put together a very strong offensive season in 2021, hitting .403/.475/.702 in 29 games, mostly in the Florida Complex League. When he was not catching, he also took reps at first base. Coming off a strong year, Guerrero will probably start the season in Low-A.
One Yankees catcher who is flying under the radar is Carlos Narvaez. Spending most of his time compared with higher-ranked prospects, Narvaez spent last season at Low-A and High-A where he posted modest offensive numbers. What stands out is his .373 on-base percentage. He has also thrown out over 35 percent of the runners who tried to steal against him. Narvaez will likely start the coming year with High-A Hudson Valley.
Mickey Gasper is another catcher in the system who has flashed offensive potential, but has not yet shown that he can sustain it over the course of a full season. This past season he hit .318/.405/.515 mostly at High-A and Double-A, but injuries limited him to just 21 games.
At the lower rungs of the system, the Yankees have catchers such as Juan Crisp, Agustin Ramirez, and Hemmanuel Rosario, who have all flashed promise and could emerge in the coming years as legitimate prospects.
The Yankees have used high draft picks and strong international resources to bring in talented catching prospects. While the team is deep at the position, no one perfect prospect has emerged from the group to be the front-runner for a long future in the Bronx. In this next year, Austin Wells and Josh Breaux could find themselves knocking on the door to the major leagues, but both players and the other prospects on this list still have work to do in order to round out their game.