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State of the Yankees’ System: Catcher

There are a lot of interesting catchers to watch in the Yankees’ organization, led by Austin Wells.

MLB: New York Yankees-Workouts
Austin Wells
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The offseason is nearing its end, and spring training is nearly here. That means that we’ll be seeing a number of the Yankees’ prospects around camp in the early stages on top of the active rostered players, and that provides a great opportunity to dive into some of the names we could see. The only efficient way to go about this is position-by-position, so let’s kick things off with the catchers.

Who is the best prospect?

If Austin Wells is just an adequate catcher, he can be a major league All-Star some day. He’s advanced enough as a hitter to give confidence in his ability to contribute significantly to a big-league lineup in the near future, and his lefty power could be of particular value to the Yankees in their home ballpark. He will likely begin 2023 in Double-A Somerset, with the hope that he pushes for a promotion by midseason and starts the chatter about seeing him in the Bronx in 2024.

Who will make it to the big leagues?

Having played in only 39 big-league games at 25 years old, Ben Rortvedt could still be considered a prospect. He’s a member of the Yankees’ 40-man roster, so it stands to reason he has the best chance of any catcher in the system to play in the majors this year, or at all. Rortvedt was supposedly an important part of the trade between the Yankees and Twins last year that sent away Gary Sánchez, but we never got to see him play in the Bronx because of a knee injury sustained in spring training. He has a reputation as a good receiver and overall defender, and there is power in his left-handed bat, but he had a lost season in almost every way in 2022, and we will hopefully get a chance to see what he can really do this summer in Scranton.

Josh Breaux was introduced to Yankee fans by Nick Swisher, who gleefully announced his name as a second-round pick in the 2018 draft out of a Texas junior college. Breaux’s game has always been about power, in his arm and his righty bat, and he threw so hard as a pitcher in college that many thought that’s how the Yankees would deploy him. Now 25, Breaux has ascended to Triple-A, and while the power has continued to impress, there are a lot of strikeouts and subpar on-base numbers to go with it.

Some catchers have to hit enough to earn time behind the plate, but Breaux may be the opposite. His defense is considered below-average, so he may need to do enough with the glove to get his at-bats. Breaux was available but not taken in December’s Rule 5 draft, but if he shows enough defensively he has the profile of a backup catcher who can pop some home runs, whether for the Yankees or someone else.

Who is about to move up the prospect list?

Antonio Gomez, signed out of Venezuela in 2018, is now 21 and ready to take on Hudson Valley in High-A. He’s always had exciting traits and upside to dream on, including what some have called a top-of-the-scale throwing arm and serious raw power with the bat. Gomez is still gaining experience and developing on both sides of the ball, where defensively he stands to improve framing and blocking and offensively he has some convincing to do with his hit tool, but his ceiling is an everyday catcher in the big leagues. He’s an exciting prospect, maybe the best pure catching prospect in the system, and a player who could push his way onto the 40-man roster with a strong 2023.

Who could click in 2023?

Engelth Urena signed for $275,000 out of the Dominican Republic a year ago, and he received the second-highest bonus in a class where most of the money was committed to Roderick Arias. According to Josh Norris of Baseball America, Urena is a prospect to watch in 2023 regardless of position. Norris said Yankees people are “effusive” in their praise of the 18-year-old Urena, and the belief is the hit tool and the power are real. Urena homered in his first professional at-bat after unknowingly breaking his hand on a foul tip the previous half inning.

It is not clear what kind of defensive prospect he is after he was able to play in only 11 games in 2022, but he’s athletic and reportedly has a strong throwing arm. Urena will likely play in the Florida Complex League all summer, and it would take a special performance for him to take any at-bats with the Tampa Tarpons by the end of the season.

Augustin Ramirez has been known for hitting the ball hard from the right side of the plate since the Yankees signed him out of the Dominican Republic in 2018. He repeated the complex league in 2022, but did so with tremendous results. He slashed .304/.386/.506, and his wRC+ of 143 came with six homers and a league-leading 51 RBI. That RBI total was 17 more than the second-place finisher, but for those who don’t love RBI as a stat, Ramirez also cut his strikeout percentage down to 15.7 percent, half of what it was the year before. There are questions about the 21-year-old Ramirez on the defensive side of the ball, and that’s a big deal, but the bat is interesting enough to find out whether he can improve behind the plate. He should get a lot of the catching innings for the Tampa Tarpons in 2023.

Who needs to have a good 2023?

Anthony Seigler was the Yankees’ first-round pick out of a Georgia high school in 2018, but he hasn’t been able to make the type of progress through the minor leagues that other recent first-rounders Anthony Volpe and Wells have. Injuries have gotten in the way, and the pandemic shutdown didn’t help either, but Seigler did not put up a full healthy season until this past year, playing 97 games between Tampa and Hudson Valley. Prospect watchers were calling his 2022 season make-or-break, but now that it’s behind us, it isn’t clear if he made it or broke. A .399 on-base percentage, 116 wRC+, and respectable strikeout rate are the most appealing numbers on offense, but there wasn’t much else to get excited about.

Seigler was known to have strong defensive skills coming out of high school, but he’s had to come a long way to get where he is now behind the plate. Yankees defensive coordinator Aaron Gershenfeld said 2022 was Seigler’s best year from a blocking and throwing standpoint, and he could see the maturation in his framing and game-calling. The switch-hitting Seigler, who turns 24 in June, is easy to like in that he’s a fiery competitor and a winning player who brings energy to a team, but it is important for him to take the next step successfully in Somerset this year.

Carlos Narvaez has played in the Yankees’ system since 2016, and he’s put up good numbers with the bat while impressing with the glove. He picked a bad time to have a down year statistically in 2022 while splitting time with Seigler at Hudson Valley. Now 24, Narvaez is facing a logjam of catchers, with Breaux, Wells, and minor league free agents ahead of him, Seigler in line with him, and Gomez right behind. Never mentioned among the top prospects in the organization, Narvaez could follow the Kyle Higashioka path of a player the Yankees clearly like having, who could be above-average defensively, and who has enough raw power to contribute with the bat as a backup. He will have to hit in Somerset this year to give himself a real opportunity going forward.

Who could move to catcher?

Catching conversions are rare as players get older, but they can happen, and there have been whispers about the Yankees’ interest in trying infielder Roberto Chirinos behind the plate. Since signing him out of Venezuela in 2017 there’s been a lot of competition in the infield, and Chirinos has not distinguished himself. He’s struggled offensively while moving around defensively in the infield, so maybe it’s time to see if his athleticism, sturdy frame, and cannon for an arm could be put to use as a catcher.

Who are we leaving out?

Ben Rice simply hasn’t had a lot of experience at catcher after being drafted out of Dartmouth in the 12th round of 2021. The Ivy League essentially shut down baseball for two years due to the pandemic, so Rice missed important development time and could be a late bloomer. He’ll play at 24 years old in 2023, and he has yet to play in High-A, but his first full season was promising. He had strong on-base and power numbers, didn’t strike out a lot, and showed off legitimate tools behind the plate. A strong work ethic and aptitude could help Rice make a jump this season as he moves to Hudson Valley.

State of the System Series:

First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Starting Pitchers
Relief Pitchers

Also see:
PSA’s Top 10 Yankees Prospects