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Yankees 2023 Season Preview: Kyle Higashioka

Can Higashioka provide a solid season in a likely backup role in 2023?

Baltimore Orioles v New York Yankees Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After the spring 2022 trade that sent Gary Sánchez to the Twins went down, it appeared that the Yankees’ starting catcher job was all Kyle Higashioka’s. Sure, the Yankees got another backstop in Ben Rortvedt in the deal, but his bat from his time in the majors was even less impressive than Higashioka’s below-average numbers.

When Rortvedt then got hurt during spring training, the Yankees made another move for a catcher, needing someone else of possible major league quality. They ended up acquiring Jose Trevino from the Rangers. While Higashioka started the season as the regular starter, he was soon surpassed as Trevino put in an All-Star season.

Now, Higashioka will go into 2023 in a familiar role: the expected backup catcher for the Yankees.

2022 Yankees Statistics: 83 games played, 248 plate appearances, .227/.264/.389, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 83 wRC+, 21.0 K%, 4.8 BB%, 1.7 fWAR

2023 ZiPS Projections: 78 games played, 254 plate appearances, .218/.269/.406, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 90 wRC+, 24.8 K%, 6.3 BB%, 1.5 fWAR

In terms of WAR, Higashioka is coming off the best season of his career. Now, part of that is due to 83 games being a career-high. But it’s also partly due to it being, in fact, probably the best season of his career. The only year where he hit better than his 83 wRC+ was in 2020, and that came in only a 16-game sample size. Beyond that, Higgy’s defense also graded out as well as it ever has. Even beyond the advanced numbers, the 13 runners he caught stealing also nearly doubled his career total prior to that point. He wasn’t a revelation or anything, but he was a perfectly fine backup catcher.

Higashioka’s main issue was the Trevino was a bit of a revelation. While his hitting tailed off a bit in the second half, Trevino’s bat was good enough in the first part of the season to win the starting job and make the All-Star team. Beyond that, Trevino’s defense rates extremely well. He put up 3.7 fWAR last season despite ending the year with a 91 wRC+.

All of that likely leaves Higashioka as the backup catcher again going into 2023. Now, Trevino’s first half carried his 2022 to the best hitting season of his career. There’s a chance he can’t replicate that again, and the two end up having a similar offensive production. Even then, Higashioka would still have the issue that the Platinum Glove winner Trevino is still likely to be the better defender.

That being said, even with Trevino ascending into the starter’s job, Higashioka still did get a decent amount of playing time, appearing in 83 games. Various projections predict him to play somewhere in the 60-80 game range this year, and towards the lower end of that total feels about right.

One other thing to note about Higashioka’s 2023 is that he’s set to be part of the United States’ roster at the World Baseball Classic. With J.T. Realmuto and Will Smith also on the roster, he might not end up appearing in many games, but that probably will be a nice little experience for him.

As far as backup catchers go, Higashioka is a pretty solid one. He’s probably not going to have a 5-WAR season anytime soon, but the Yankees could certainly do worse than him.