The Yankees’ 2023 catching situation was forgettable at best. At a premium defensive spot, the glove is what buoyed the Bombers’ backstops, in what was a lackluster year with the bats. Among the four players to don the gear this season, Kyle Higashioka saw the most time in the lineup, and was pretty easily the most productive of the bunch. While a starting catcher job is not the ideal spot for a 33-year-old mostly viewed as a backup, he held his own just fine in 2023. As one of the longest-tenured Yankees around these days, he stayed consistently in-line with the job description in 2023.
2023 Statistics: 92 games, 260 PA, .236/.274/.413, 10 HR, 86 wRC+, .293 wOBA, 1.7 fWAR
2024 Contract Status: Arbitration eligible
As mentioned, the catcher position was not exactly a bright spot for the Yanks in 2023, particularly on offense. As a group, their 73 wRC+ was sixth-worst in the majors, as none of their backstops were above league-average at the plate when they were in the lineup. Defense does matter of course, particularly behind the plate, and New York’s was good enough to sneak them to a respectable 10th-place finish in fWAR (3.0).
Higgy, however, was the offensive high point among his fellow catchers in the Bronx. Not only was his 92 games and 260 plate appearances easily the lion’s share of playing time, his 86 wRC+ and 1.7 fWAR paced the group with room to spare. Austin Wells did have a higher wRC+, but it was in just 19 games in the big leagues.
2023 was also, all things considered, Higashioka’s best season in the big leagues. It was a campaign in which he saw the most time on the field, he matched last year’s fWAR output, was a slight bit better at the plate, and notched a third consecutive year with exactly 10 homers.
Now is an 86 wRC+ at any spot in the lineup a good thing? No, but Higashioka is realistically, by trade, a backup catcher. And with that in mind, that’s fine. The context of what Higgy is fuels his respectable B- grade, and that would seem to be fair. He is a solid second catcher, and performed as such. The issue lies more with the fact that the Yankees didn’t exactly have a first catcher, leading to his more prominent role.
Along with Higashioka’s fine-enough bat in 2023, his defense more than held its own to help boost his value even more. Statcast graded him as an average-ish defender, but an excellent pitch-framer, as he ranked in the 90th percentile. His main counterpart behind the plate, Jose Trevino, is even better behind the plate. But, since his All-Star first half of 2022, his bat has proven to be likely too much of a liability (particularly with an ailing wrist). On top of the fact that Trevino missed much of the season due to injury, Higgy began to take more and more of the job as the 2022 All-Star fell further and further with the stick.
Higashioka made his first appearance in the big leagues for the Yankees in 2017, and has been in the organization since being drafted out of a California high school all the way back in 2008. He has been around for quite some time. For pretty much that entire tenure, he has been a second or third catcher. And all things considered, he’s done a nice job in that role.
Higgy’s solid defense, apparent ability to get along with pitchers (like Gerrit Cole), and tendency to hit a homer (or three) here or there, makes him more than serviceable in the role. Now it’s more up to the Yankees to decide if he’ll remain in that spot. At the very least, it is clear that he’s not a primary receiver.
Higashioka has been in pinstripes for some time, and has been perfectly serviceable in his role. However, he’s entering his final year of team control in 2024 and is due another raise in arbitration — not a huge one, but something to consider. With Trevino healthy again and in line to be in the mix through 2025 and Wells knocking at the door after a productive September, it would not be shocking to see the Yankees move on from Higgy, sticking with the Trevino/Wells tandem while Ben Rortvedt hangs around in Triple-A as the emergency third catcher (he is also out of options, so he would need to clear waivers after a DFA).
These are all questions for another day, though. After all, Higashioka is still currently a member of the team. He had some nice moments in 2023 and has for many years as a Yankee, and he certainly earned his B- grade in his role.