And the Yankees’ Starting Catcher Will Be?
The Gary Sanchez experiment is over in New York and I’m feeling a little sad about it. Don’t get me wrong, it was time to move on and I truly hope that the Twin Cities provides a nice change for Sanchez. I always hoped that he would turn it around in the Bronx, but it’s been tough to watch for too long.
Sanchez signed with the Yankees just as I was starting to write for IIATMS in 2009. While I was covering the minors, the Yankees were seemingly stacked with catching prospects. You had Austin Romine, John Ryan Murphy, Jesus Montero, and Gary Sanchez all vying to be the next Yankees backstop to stick.
Montero, of course, was the centerpiece for quite a while. A sure thing HOF bat who – probably wouldn’t stick behind the plate. Unfortunately, he didn’t last too long in the Majors after being traded to the Mariners and has since played in the Mexican Baseball League. I was always more intrigued by Sanchez, who was still not likely to be a great defensive catcher, but was more likely to stick behind the plate than Montero.
In his first couple of years, Sanchez made a big impact, and while his defense was always lacking, for a while his bat made up for it. He seemed to genuinely be working at being a better defensive catcher, not that he was ever going to win a Gold Glove or anything like that. Alas, his offense was so abysmal the last four years that he is leaving New York with a .230/.318/.487 line after seven seasons.
Presumably, had Sanchez stayed he would have still taken the bulk of the starts with Kyle Higashioka getting the rest. So now that Sanchez is headed to Minnesota, what does the catching situation look like. Well, of course, Higashioka is still around and he is a feel good story of his own. In the midst of all of those top catching prospects working their way through the Yankees’ farm system, Higashioka has played twelve seasons in the Minors, starting back in 2008.
Higashioka steadily worked his way up and then he seemed stuck in Scranton for quite a while. He finally got a call up in 2017 and made a handful of appearances. 2021 was the first time Higashioka appeared in more than 29 MLB games, making 67 appearances. Of course, while a pretty solid defensive catcher, Higashioka’s bat leaves a lot to be desired.
Perhaps the least talked about part of Sunday’s big trade has been 24- year old catcher Ben Rortvedt. He made his major league debut with the Twins in 2021, appearing in 39 games. Apparently a weight room junkie, Rortvedt reportedly has arms the size of tree trunks. He was rated as the Twins best defensive catching prospect, and while he struggled at the plate with the Twins last year, he has some solid potential. Oh, and he’s a left-handed hitter (throws right), so he should enjoy Yankee Stadium.
As it stands now, I would expect Higashioka to get the bulk of the starts with Rortvedt getting some and working on developing. But at this point, who knows. In fact, after last night I almost expect the Yankees to do something else tonight between the time that I finish writing this and when it posts in the morning, making this all irrelevant.
Isn’t it great to have actual baseball things to talk about again?!?!