Just a few years ago, the Yankees' minor league catchers were considered perhaps the best in baseball. They had one of the top prospects in the game in Jesus Montero, two solid defenders who were considered future big leaguers in Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy, and a very young top 100 prospect named Gary Sanchez. Obviously Montero was a bust and never stuck behind the plate, but at the time, teams envied the Yankees' depth. Fast-forward a few years, and suddenly, the Yankees find themselves with not a lot to offer behind the plate in their system.
Thankfully, there is still Sanchez to salvage the organization. He was ranked the second best catching prospect in baseball by MLB.com entering the 2016 season, and it is easy to see why scouts love him so much. Sanchez has some very impressive power at the plate; that has always been his calling card. Last year between Triple-A Scranton and Double-A Trenton, he hit 18 homers to go with a .274/.330/.485 triple slash, a season that put him back on the prospect map after a sluggish few years. He impressed the team enough to be called up for MLB debut that September.
Sanchez followed up on his 2015 by belting seven dingers in the Arizona Fall League, and he has picked up where he left off in Scranton, too. Through 34 games, he is hitting .290/.333/.529 with six long balls, making a brief reappearance in the big leagues before hitting the DL with a thumb fracture. Sanchez's bombs have the capacity to go a long, long way:
However, the part of Sanchez's game that has the Yankees most excited is his defense. Just a couple years ago, it seemed like Sanchez was doomed to Montero's fate of never being quite good enough to handle the rigors of catching. The 23-year-old has really made strides in the past couple years though. Sanchez always had a powerful arm for throwing out runners, but he has worked hard to call a better game behind the plate and reduce the number of passed balls and wild pitches. Sanchez certainly still has much to accomplish on defense, but scouts feel more confident about his ability to remain at catcher. He should be important to the Yankees' future, even with Brian McCann entrenched in the starting role.
Beyond Sanchez, it gets grim. The combination of the Murphy trade and Romine's promotion to the MLB backup job means that there isn't much depth beyond Sanchez. Most of the catching reps down in Trenton, Tampa, and Charleston have been taken by Kyle Higashioka, Santiago Nessy, Eduardo Navas, and Audie Afenir (the latter two have roughly split time in Charleston with Navas getting the slight majority). Higashioka and Afenir are a little old for their levels, and neither Nessy or Navas can hit. All of them are solid organizational catchers to have around, but they probably don't have much potential in terms of big league futures.
The best hope after Sanchez is Luis Torrens, a 20-year-old catcher from Venezuela who is very advanced at the position for his age. Signed in July 2012 for $1.3 million, Torrens moved quickly and hit .270/.327/.405 in 48 games with the short-season Staten Island Yankees in 2014 just after his 18th birthday. His promise hit a road block last year when he missed the entire season due to a torn labrum in his shoulder that required surgery, much like Greg Bird. Torrens had a setback and probably won't return to regular action for a little while longer, but whenever he is ready to go, he should report to Charleston. Hopefully he can recapture that 2014 form.
In an effort to increase their catching depth, the Yankees recently made the decision to convert 2015 draft pick Donny Sands from third base to behind the plate. An eight round selection out of an Arizona high school, Sands hit .309/.395/.361 in 55 games between Rookie ball and Charleston last year. However, the Yankees feel that it's worth a shot to see if he can catch, though he might still see some time in the infield. Sands played shortstop and pitched in high school, so given Sands' dexterity and work ethic, he might be able to make it work behind the plate. Sands is currently in extended spring training, so expect him to make his minor league debut at catcher in short-season ball after the draft.