Position Battles: Backup Catcher

Prior to the start of Yankees Summer Camp, the Yanks’ once-faithful backup catcher, Austin Romine, bid the Bronx farewell and signed as a free agent with the Detroit Tigers.  However, the Yankees go into the 60-game 2020 regular season with three catchers: Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka and Chris Iannetta. 
Photo credit: Newsday

At the minor league level, the Yankees signed three catchers in the offseason: Erik Kratz, Josh Thole and Iannetta, who all have major league experience.  Days before Opening Night on July 23, Iannetta earned a spot on the Yankees' 30-man roster and will start the season in the major leagues.  As such, the Yankees will carry three catchers. 

The signings of additional catchers, whether at the minor or major league level can possibly be attributed to the Yankees setting up for the potential of yet another season of garden-variety Gary Sanchez injuries (which could be limited thanks to the shortened season) and recognizing the need for a backup for the backup catcher (even if not just yet).  

But, for the time being, and in spite of Iannetta's call-up, Higashioka is the first-choice Yankees’ backup catcher.  In addition, while they have options for it -- chief among them Giancarlo Stanton and Luke Voit, Sanchez will likely spend the occasional day at the DH spot.  Can Higashioka be counted on?

Higgy entered the Yankees system back in 2008 at age 18.  In 2017, he was called up to The Show for the first time and appeared in nine games.  But in 2018, his number of games that he appeared in jumped from nine to 29.  In 2019, he appeared in 18 big league games but appeared in 70 games with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.  “We feel like he’s been ready for this opportunity for a while now,” Aaron Boone told Newsday. “He understands, I think, that this is his time.”

In his 2018 MLB appearances, Higgy went 12-for-72 with a .167 batting average, six runs, three home runs and six RBIs.  In his 2019 MLB appearances, he went 12-for-56, with a .214 batting average, three home runs and 11 RBIs.  Even with fewer appearances in 2019 over 2018, Higgy showed improvement by recording a higher batting average with the same number of home runs and more RBIs on fewer at-bats than he did in his previous season.  As such, he can only get better from here.

Without having to look up any catching stats for Higgy from the defensive side, a simple Google search of “Kyle Higashioka defense” yields praise for his work behind the plate.  “He’s an exceptional defender, a great catcher and a legitimate threat against left-handed pitching,” Brian Cashman told the New York Post.  “Romine obviously did a great job while he was here, and Higgy has earned the right to take a shot at that position now.”

The Yankees’ front office and coaching staff appear to recognize Higgy’s efforts to improve his game both from offensive and defensive angles.  Out of all the chances for success that the Yankees have at the backup catcher position, Higgy’s improving upward trajectory, as well as his depth of experience with the organization (as a “home-grown Yankee since 2008), makes him the best candidate for the job.

Article by: Mary Grace Donaldson


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