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Yankees 2015 Roster Report Card: Gosuke Katoh

The young second baseman has shown he can hit in Rookie Ball, but struggled heavily at Charleston after a midseason promotion.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Grade: C

2015 Stats: .239/.367/.334, 6 HR, 17 SB, 67 BB, 111 SO, 403 AB

2015 Roster Status: High-Rookie/Low-A; Non-40

The curious case of Gosuke Katoh.

Selected in the second round (66th overall) by the Yankees in 2013, Katoh is a rare breed among draft hopefuls—a high school second baseman. Most infield prospects start out as shortstops and are converted elsewhere when they reach the pros. It only makes sense. These guys have been the best defender on every team they've ever played on. Naturally, any coach is going to play their best infielder at shortstop. Still, Katoh is a second baseman through and through, and a darn good one at that.

Katoh began playing baseball when his parents enrolled him in Little League to help him learn English. He went on to star at Rancho Bernardo HS in San Diego, the same school that produced both Hank Blalock and Cole Hamels. There, Katoh had a phenomenal senior season, in which he batted .451 with 12 doubles and eight homers in an extremely competitive conference, as most high school leagues in Southern California are.

Ranked as the 189th best overall prospect by Baseball America entering the draft, Katoh scared off potential suitors with a strong commitment to UCLA. Unfazed, the Yankees picked him in the second round, more than 100 spots before he "should" have been taken. He earned a straight slot signing bonus of $850k. Only a handful of players (all pitchers) selected afterward have already reached the Major Leagues, headed by Oakland's Kendall Graveman and the Yankees' own Nick Rumbelow. None have made much of an impact yet, so in that respect, the decision to select Katoh, an unorthodox prospect by all standards, hasn't entirely backfired.

Katoh signed quickly and made the Yankees' brass look like geniuses with an outstanding pro debut. As an 18-year-old, Katoh mashed. In Rookie Ball, he batted .310/.402/.522 in 50 games, leading the Gulf Coast League with a .924 OPS and 6 home runs to go along with 16 doubles and triples. In 2013, the neophyte succeeded despite skepticism. He put himself on the map with a strong glove (albeit at second instead of short) and an even stronger bat.

In 2014, however, Katoh regressed. Big time. Promoted to Low-A Charleston, the 19-year-old was 2.5 years younger than the average Sally Leaguer. Although he survived the entire season without a demotion, Katoh showed his inexperience. The suddenly-overwhelmed second base string bean hit just .222/.345/.326. Although he stole 20 bases, he was caught 10 times. In 465 at-bats, double his total from the previous season, Katoh's strikeouts nearly quadrupled. I guess you could call that coming back to earth. Katoh, who had silenced critics that called him a reach in the second round, gave naysayers ammunition with a weak showing in his sophomore campaign.

2015 was a regrouping season for the youngster. The Yankees took some pressure off Katoh, assigning the kid to rookie ball in Pulaski. Even though it was his third pro season, at age 20, Katoh was still several months younger than the average Pioneer Leaguer. Demonstrating comfort with his competition, Katoh rebounded. He slashed .287/.426/.416. He hit five home runs. He swiped nine bases without being caught once. His walk total (49) nearly mirrored his strikeouts (61). After 59 games in Rookie League, things were looking up for Katoh.

At midseason, the Yankees rewarded his performance with a promotion. He appeared ready to give Charleston another chance. To everyone's dismay, his bat failed him again. Katoh was brutal in A-ball. He batted .161/.264/.202. He managed just one homer and two doubles. He took significantly fewer walks (18) and struck out at an alarming 35% rate. Given another chance to prove himself against high-quality competition, Katoh stumbled. The 39 games he spent at Charleston last season were his worst as a professional. His monster 2013 is starting to feel like it was eons ago.

Going forward, the Yankees still have high hopes for Katoh. He'll be just 21 next year and already has three professional seasons under his belt. He has achieved success in the professional ranks. However, Katoh needs to show an ability to hit above rookie ball. He must translate his 2013 production to a full season at Charleston. So far, Katoh has proven that he can hit weak pitching but struggles against the big boys. With two additional levels standing between Katoh and the Bronx, the lefty batter can't afford to struggle so mightily every time he moves up a notch.

Physically, Katoh is a natural athlete. He has a compact, level swing and is fundamentally sound on defense. Clearly, he can run. At 6'2", 180 lbs, Katoh has the height he needs. Hopefully, he will continue to add strength as his body matures. Right now, Katoh is still quite skinny.

Looking to 2016, Katoh has a chance to win a roster spot with Charleston although it won't be handed to him. Katoh's assignment should largely depend on his performance in spring training. If he trains with the A-ballers and shows he can hit, he should absolutely begin the season there. If he struggles again, the Yankees might want him to pad his numbers with a couple games in Rookie League, just to get him going. Ultimately, I don't expect Gosuke to spend much time, if any at all, in the lowest levels. Besides, at age 21, he's getting a bit old for Rookie Ball.

2016 is going to be an important season for Katoh. 366 days from now (hooray, leap year!), we should have an idea of what kind of player he is going to develop into. Right now, his trajectory can take two paths. Either he flames out and can't hit upper-level pitching or he overcomes his struggles and performs well enough at Charleston to earn a promotion to Tampa by year's end. The Yankees, who have a tough time developing middle infield talent, sincerely hope it's the latter.