Despite an impressive first half, Yankees’ catcher Jose Trevino fell back to earth after the break – offensively speaking - and finished with a .671 OPS and a 91 wRC+. In spite of hitting 20 home runs in the last two seasons, reserve backstop Kyle Higashioka posted an 83 wRC+, not much better than his career 71 mark.
What Trevino and Higashioka did last year was a valiant effort. You could say it’s pretty much what the Yankees expected, given their outstanding work behind the plate. But what if we told you that they employ someone who could offer comparable defensive skills and more offensive upside? Enter Ben Rortvedt.
If he is 100 percent healthy – and everything seems to indicate that he is after dealing with an oblique issue and undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last year – he will enter a pivotal season. The 25-year-old came to the Bronx in the Isiah Kiner-Falefa-Josh Donaldson trade as the third piece, and has fallen off the radar of fans after a largely absent 2022, but he has sneaky potential.
Injuries derailed his 2022 campaign, but he did return in time to post a .221/.307/.396 line with six home runs and an 86 wRC+ in 177 plate appearances in Triple-A. That’s not very impressive, but keep in mind he was returning from knee surgery.
In order to keep himself in the organization’s plans for the future, he needs to prove that he can be at least an average-hitting catcher in MLB, and he has the potential to do that. He had a .750 OPS and a 101 wRC+ in Triple-A with the Minnesota Twins in 2021, and even though he was a disaster at the MLB level that year (41 wRC+), 98 trips to the plate is not enough to judge him.
Ben Rortvedt muscles a two-run homer into the Syracuse bullpen. It’s 5-0 in the second. Rortvedt has a homer and a double so far. pic.twitter.com/PiN9OV6726— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) September 3, 2022
Defense is definitely not a problem for Rortvedt, which is why he has a nice foundation to build his case for taking some playing time from Trevino and Higashioka, or at least being a capable option if one of the two go down with injury.
In just 256 innings with the Twins in 2021, Rortvedt had five Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and 2.3 Framing Runs, per FanGraphs. He also had 1.5 Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA), Baseball Prospectus’ go-to defensive metric. Arm-wise, he is solid, too. He doesn’t have a cannon, but boasts a quick pop times.
He is not quite in Trevino’s league defensively, but can get the job done and looks to be solidly above-average. His future with the Yankees – and in MLB, really – will come down to how he develops as a hitter, and what ceiling he shows once he’s fully healthy.
From 2018 to 2021, he was an above-average (per wRC+) hitter at every minor league stop he played in, from Class-A to Triple-A, until his rather forgettable MLB stint in Minnesota that year. That can’t go unnoticed and shows he could potentially be a better hitter than both Yankees catchers. He also may have considerable power potential, clear to anyone that’s seen the kind of shape he’s in. In his brief MLB cameo, his max exit velo came in above 111 mph, in the 80th percentile, despite having so few opportunities to hit.
His range of outcomes is quite wide, though. He could be an afterthought and disappear from the map in a year or two. Or, he could force his way into a role on the Yankees active roster.
It will be up to him and his ability to hit the baseball. The Yankees could definitely use a catcher with average to above-average offense and good defense to complement Trevino, a difference-maker behind the plate with a suspect bat.