Lately, when people talk about the catchers in the New York Yankees farm system, Gary Sanchez is the first name that comes to mind. Sanchez is no doubt the catcher with the highest up side in the Yankees system, but he’s not the only one that may have a future as a big league backstop.
The catching prospect most feel is closest to cracking the big league roster, is J.R. Murphy. Murphy is a 22-year-old from Bradenton, Florida whom the Yankees drafted out of the University of Miami in 2009. His first full season in the minors came in 2010, when he played in 87 games for Single-A Charleston. His .255 average was not exactly awe-inspiring, but his 56 RBI were fifth on the team and the four players ahead of him each played at least 106 games. What was most worrisome, was Murphy’s 11 errors and 13 passed balls. In 2011, Murphy improved on his average significantly, hitting .287 while spending time with Charleston, and High-A Tampa. The power numbers dropped off a little, but his defense was much improved with just 8 errors and 5 passed balls.
In 2012 Murphy’s offensive numbers were still not where the Yankees had expected them to be when the drafted him in the second round. In 110 games he hit for a lousy .248 between Tampa and Double-A Trenton. The catcher’s defense was still not looking good with 11 errors and 13 passed balls. Murphy seemed to turn a corner in 2013 while spitting time between Trenton and Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, hitting .269 with 29 doubles and 12 homers while knocking in 44. He committed 10 errors and allowed 13 passed balls, but his caught-stealing percentage was up to 37%. The solid season earned Murphy a September call-up.
There is no doubt J.R. Murphy’s chances of ever being the Yankees’ everyday catcher are very slim. Brian McCann was signed in the offseason for the next five years. Gary Sanchez is the player with the higher upside even though he needs at least another year in the minors. Murphy will be in Tampa for Spring Training, but even is he plays well, the Yankees very well may elect to let him play everyday in Triple-A and go with Austin Romine or Francisco Cervelli as the backup to McCann. Brian Cashman and the Yankee management obviously want to see Murphy continue to improve both offensively and defensively. However they most likely view him as more of a trade chip than anything else. It’s no secret the Yankees need pitching and don’t have a heck of a lot on the farm that intrigues other teams enough to part with a quality hurler. With any luck J.R. Murphy, will start to change that thought process.