By now you’ve probably heard that the Yankees lost Gary Sanchez to injury over the weekend. He suffered a strained right biceps during an at-bat against the Orioles on Saturday. Although he is scheduled for further tests, the strain proved severe enough to land him on the 10-day disabled list. Given his status as a lineup linchpin, any Sanchez injury ranks among the worst-case scenarios for the season.
It’s impossible to place any positive spin on an injury to a franchise cornerstone. The Yankees can’t make the best of a bad situation. The organization can, however, minimize the ripple effect. They could do this by remaining committed to the development of Sanchez’s replacement, Kyle Higashioka.
The team recalled Higashioka from Triple-A on Sunday morning. He figures to bolster the catching depth and occasionally back up Austin Romine. There’s a case to be made, however, that Higashioka should immediately take over as the everyday catcher. In fact, it’s more compelling than one would think.
For his part, Romine has served as a quality second-string backstop. He’s carved out a nifty little career. Last season he managed a .242/.269/.382 slash line with four home runs. As a backup catcher those numbers seem solid. That said, at this point in his career, Romine’s a known commodity. He’s a decent defensive catcher with a serviceable enough bat. Given his replaceable skill set and service time, Romine doesn’t figure into the Yankees’ long-term plans.
On the other hand, Higashioka has higher upside. According to FanGraphs, he ranks as the organization’s 25th best prospect. In the write up, Eric Longenhagen noted that “he has surprising bat control despite a stiff, deep load and, while he’s an aggressive hitter with limited on base ability, the power output is rare for a catcher”. Higashioka possesses a floor that is roughly the equivalent of Romine, but for a longer and cost-controlled period.
While it remains to be seen if Higashioka can tap into that power potential right away, he should be catching every day for developmental purposes. He missed significant time due to injury in his minor league career when he required Tommy John surgery in 2013 and suffered a broken thumb in 2014. Those are two significant years in his development as a catcher. While he’s rebounded nicely, the best thing for him moving forward is regular catching. He certainly could learn by riding the bench, pouring over scouting reports, and occasionally catching. That said, the optimal scenario in this case means diving right in.
Based on comments by Joe Girardi to the New York Daily News, it doesn’t appear that the Yankees will pursue this course.
"We're going to look at it," Girardi said when asked how much each will play. "Ro has the most experience in this situation. Maybe you team up Higgy with some of the guys he's caught before in the minor leagues or wherever and try to go from there."
That seems to indicate Higashioka would only catch Severino and the soon-to-be-named fifth starter. Still, it’s worth considering for the sake of his development.
Sanchez’s injury doesn’t have to derail the rest of the organization’s plans. While losing Sanchez is a nightmare scenario, hopefully he only misses the minimum 10 days and returns as strong as ever. In the meantime, the Yankees can remain committed to Higashioka’s development and name him the everyday catcher.