Yankees have added experienced backup catching
By Scott Roche
Injuries are part of baseball over the grind of a 162-game regular-season schedule, just ask the 2019 Yankees. Good organizations add depth to their team and plan ahead in case they need more options when injuries occur. One position where the Yankees have added a lot of depth is at catcher.
Over the past few years, Gary Sanchez has not been able to stay healthy enough to avoid stints on the IL. The Yankees had the luxury of penciling trusted backup Austin Romine in his place and the veteran proved his worth as a backup.
Last season, Romine finished with a .281 average at the plate with eight home runs and 35 RBI in 72 games. Romine was drafted by New York in 2007, and after spending five of the last seven years as the backup in the Bronx he opted to sign a free-agent contract with the Detroit Tigers over the winter with the hope of landing the full-time catching duties.
With Sanchez often injured, that leaves a void that needs to be filled by someone. Kyle Higashioka was drafted by the Yankees in the seventh round of the 2008 and is out of minor league options. He’s off to a great start this spring offensively and will begin the season as the backup catcher. Knowing how important the backup situation is, GM Brian Cashman addressed the situation by signing three catchers to minor league deals. All three have MLB experience.
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Erik Kratz, Josh Thole, and Chris Iannetta were all signed to deals over the winter. Kratz is familiar to the Yankees as he finished the 2017 season with New York and 2019 with Triple-A Scranton. Iannetta has bounced around the league as the starter for four different teams over the course of his 14-year career, but mostly with the Rockies. Thole has spent time in the majors with the Mets and Toronto Blue Jays.
All three catchers expect to fight for a spot as Sanchez’s backup but Higgy seems to have that job locked up if he stays healthy. His competitors will be the odd men out but they could serve a big role with the younger Yankee arms in Scranton.
Whoever does not win the No. 5 starter spot in the Yankees rotation out of Spring Training could benefit from working with Kratz, Thole or Iannetta in the minors. Although I’d expect Iannetta to leave the Yanks if he doesn’t make the team and try to catch on with another club at the major league level.
With the loss of Romine to the Tigers, Higgy will finally get his chance as the backup on a full-time basis. Hopefully, Sanchez can avoid another injury-plagued campaign, but the Yankees have set themselves up with depth at catcher whether Iannetta stays or not. That’s something we know this team can’t have too much of, no matter the position.