Yankees: Analyzing the four catchers competing for the backup job
By Derek McAdam
The New York Yankees have added three veteran catchers this offseason after losing Austin Romine to the Tigers, but will any of these players earn the backup position?
After signing Chris Iannetta and Erik Kratz to minor league contracts, the Yankees added former Mets catcher Josh Thole on a minor league pact. The trio of veteran catchers are expected to compete with Kyle Higashioka to backup Gary Sanchez.
Here is a quick rundown of each catcher:
Kyle Higashioka: Higashioka is more than likely seen as the definite backup to Sanchez to begin the 2020 season. When it comes to offense, Higashioka is a career .164 hitter in 146 at-bats. This number should not be too alarming, as he improved during the 2019 season with a .214 average.
The Yankees are not looking at Higashioka to get on base as much as they would prefer solid defense from the 29-year old. He will not be a lock to get the backup position like Austin Romine was, but with a solid Spring Training, he will more than likely be the frontrunner to land the job.
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Chris Iannetta: After spending the last two seasons with the Colorado Rockies, Iannetta has made the move to the Yankee organization. In 52 games with the Rockies in 2019, Iannetta hit .222, slugged six home runs and drove in 21 runs. A key component of Iannetta’s game is that he has starting experience and has caught as many as 115 games in a season.
Projections show that Iannetta will have 318 plate appearances this season, which double the amount from his ’19 season. If Iannetta doesn’t stay with the Yankees for the entire season, some believe he will get plenty of playtime elsewhere.
Erik Kratz: Kratz is more than likely not going to get the backup job, mainly due to his poor performance last season at the big league level. In only 49 at-bats, he managed just five hits with a .170 OBP. However, Kratz may be one of the most valuable pieces at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Minor league clubs always need veteran presences, and Kratz is an ideal guy for that position.
After all, he did manage to play very well in Scranton last season. Kratz hit nearly .300 in 154 at-bats and clubbed seven home runs. Kratz will turn 40 in June but has still managed to earn a contract from the Yankees. It would be interesting to see Kratz playing in pinstripes, but the Yanks may see him as more of a minor league depth piece.
Josh Thole: Thole has not played in the majors since the 2016 season, but that did not stop the Yankees from giving the former Met a contract. In 2019 season, Thole played with both Los Angeles clubs’ minor league teams, spending time in Salt Lake City, Oklahoma City and Tulsa (Double-A affiliate of the Dodgers).
He hit .243 in 72 games between the three cities and worked his way to a .352 OBP. Thole will need to have an excellent spring if he wants to see himself in a major league park this season, but will more than likely end up as the Yankees fourth-string backup to Sanchez.
General manager Brian Cashman made sure that Spring Training will be one filled with competition, especially behind the plate. And it will only be a matter of time before one of these four catchers wins a backup job on the 26-man roster.