When he stepped into the batter's box in the bottom of the 8th yesterday, J.R. Murphy helped set a new Yankee franchise record by becoming the 52nd different player used this season. It wasn't just a throw-away at-bat either. Murphy patiently worked a 3-1 count before lining a hard hit groundball single through the left side for his first career Major League hit in his first career at-bat. He got to be a part of Yankee team history while adding to what has already been a very big year for him personally. With the season he's already had in the Minors, the call up, and the hit, Murphy has thrust himself into the conversation for top organizational prospect and put himself firmly on the map to not only secure a 40-man roster spot and avoid being exposed to the Rule 5 Draft after this season, but to make next year's Opening Day roster.
2012 was a tough year for Murphy after a breakout season in Low-A ball. He struggled with the bat out of the gate in his return to High-A Tampa, and just as he was starting to find himself at the plate he was promoted to Double-A Trenton. In 43 games for the Thunder, he hit .231/.306/.408 and found himself on the outside looking in on most top 10 Yankee prospect rankings. He didn't enter this season with much fanfare and despite hitting .268/.352/.421 in his return to Trenton, it wasn't until Murphy was promoted to Triple-A earlier this season that he finally started to get a little ink.
Both the ink and the promotion proved to be well-deserved in this case as Murphy more than held his own at SWB. His .272/.342/.430 batting line in 257 PA for the RailRiders almost mirrored what he did in Trenton, and his BB (8.9%) and K (16.0%) rates suggest that he wasn't just getting lucky and wasn't overmatched by the pitching. Between the 2 levels this season, Murphy hit 12 HR, 29 2B, scored 60 runs, and drew 45 BB. If that still doesn't sound impressive enough for you, consider that top catching prospect Gary Sanchez has 15 HR, 27 2B, 50 R, and 41 BB this season and has done that in 509 PA against High-A and Double-A pitching. Murphy's numbers came in 468 PA against Double and Triple-A, and he tossed in a 37% CS rate to boot.
At 22 years old and not turning 23 until next May, Murphy finds himself at the doorstep of the Majors less than a year after being little more than an afterthought in the team's prospect stockpile. He's proven this year that the bat that made him a prospect is very real and that he's got the glove to go with it. He still isn't getting the name recognition that other top Yankee prospects are, but that should start to change soon. 22-year-old plus hitting Triple-A catchers with improving defensive skills don't stay anonymous for long. The Yankee decision makers thought enough of what he did in the Minors this year to call him up and give him a taste of Major League life as a test for next Spring Training, and with what the Yankees will bring back internally to compete for the 2 catching spots he's got as good a chance as anybody to win a job. He's young, talented, and cheap, everything that next year's roster and future Yankee rosters need.
If Joe continues to find ways to work him into games this month, Murphy's already great 2013 should get even better.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)