As usual, the Yankees are experiencing the pains of a 40-man roster crunch. They have yet to make a move to open up a spot for the recently-signed Stephen Drew, and when they do they will have to deal with a possible surplus of infielders on the roster. That's not the worst problem to have when you're coming off a year in which your infield was as bad as the Yankees' was in 2014, and it should work itself out by the time Spring Training comes and goes. It wasn't that long ago that the Bombers were going through a similar crunch with their catching depth. They opened the offseason with 5 catchers on the 40-man and not enough spots for all those catchers. Francisco Cervelli was traded to Pittsburgh for Justin Wilson, which opened up the backup MLB job for John Ryan Murphy and eased the playing time concerns at the rest of the upper levels. With that issue cleared up, let's do a quick review of the team's current catching depth.
Brian McCann is firmly entrenched in the starting job, and looking to improve on a mostly disappointing first season in New York. He was everything the Yankees hoped for in terms of defense and pitch framing, but he struggled mightily at the plate, battling swing changes, the shift, and a puzzling inability to hit right-handed pitching. His hot and powerful September was encouraging and he held up well physically to a full starting workload. An improved Year 2 of his 5-year deal would help repair the damage done by his underwhelming Year 1.
The aforementioned Mr. Murphy will step into the regular backup catcher role this season after showing promise with the bat and drawing positive marks across the board for his defense, mentality, and work ethic over the last 2 years. This is his first real test to see if he can eventually start to take over more of McCann's playing time, something that will surely have to happen by the end of McCann's contract, and the Yankees would love to see an offensive breakout similar to the one Murphy had in 2013. At age 23, he's right on the cusp of making himself a bigger piece of the team's future plans.
The man he bypassed to move into his new role, Austin Romine, finds himself at a bit of a career crossroads. He's still on the 40-man, but he's out of MiL options and would have to clear waivers to be assigned back to Triple-A SWB. His role there would be one of mentor and backup more than starter, as his offensive stagnation over the past 2+ years has gotten him passed over in the organizational playing time hierarchy. He's plenty young at 26 and is more than serviceable as an MLB backup. It wouldn't be a big surprise to see him latch on somewhere else for a chance at a job if he does end up getting DFA'd.
The player Romine would be mentoring if he stays around is Gary Sanchez, who is slated to make the jump from Trenton to SWB this year. It was another good-not-great year for Sanchez at the plate in 2014 (.270/.338/.406, 13 HR in 477 PA), and although scouts continue to talk about his defense in an "improving" light, it does seem like the ceiling on his eventual defensive rating is coming down. This year is somewhat of a make-or-break one for Sanchez. He can justify all the years of hype and high prospect rankings and throw his name into the ring for future PT at the Major League level, or his deficiencies as a hitter and defensive catcher can be exploited by better pitching and start to bring his entire developmental ceiling down.
After Sanchez, the lower levels of the system are pretty barren. Luis Torrens looked good in SS Staten Island and should get another shot at Low-A ball this year, but he's still very young and years away from being a realistic fixture in the future picture. 25-year-old Juan Graterol was signed to soak up some of the Double-A and High-A innings along with Francisco Arcia, although neither of them are anything more than org depth at this point.
The trading away of Cervelli and Peter O'Brien a few months prior helped ease the logjam at the upper levels of the organizational depth chart, and the Yankees now have very clearly defined roles for each of their top 3 catchers (McCann, Murphy, Sanchez). That's the most important thing for now. The lower-level depth issues can be resolved in the future, possibly as early as the next MLB draft. It's not as deep as it once was, but there's still plenty of talent and enough depth on hand.