Even at this point in the season, it’s hard to tell exactly what kind of hitter Austin Romine is. Looking at his minor league stats, particularly his career .748 minor league OPS, you’d assume that he’s destined to be a backup catcher. But due to injuries, Romine only compiled around 500 plate appearances since 2010. During this time, he’s shown some bouts of power, plate discipline, and an ability to make contact.
But as I’ve been keen to mention in many of my recent posts, the Yankees’ minor league system is notoriously hard on right-handed batters. With park adjustments, Romine earned a .339 wOBA in 2009, a .343 in 2010, and a.351 wOBA in 2011. Although he struggled in a handful of at bats in an injury plagued 2012, during his short stint in Triple-A in 2013, Romine put up a .367 wOBA through just 46 plate appearances. Much of the prospect hype has faded, but in limited at bats, Romine seems to have improved yearly.
Now as a 24 year old major leaguer, he has received just 95 plate appearances, and managed just a .213/.247/.326 slash. Yet again, there’s more to the story than simply pointing out his .573 OPS.
The Yankees obviously need whatever they can get from the catching position, and Chris Stewart has earned the majority of the playing time with his .229/.301/.290 slash line. Neither player has been too impressive. But Romine has taken steps to better himself. Over his last 24 plate appearances, Romine is batting .476/.542/.810 with 10 hits, 4 doubles, 1 home run, 3 walks, and 5 strike outs. Considering the numbers he put up at the beginning of the season, I decided to take a look at his earlier at bats in comparison to his recent appearances, and that’s where I saw a new approach at the plate.
There is one major difference here. In May, Romine is making a foot tap with his left foot, but in August he’s taking an aggressive stride step. The catcher actually first demonstrated this change in a game on May 16th, and since then he’s hit .243/.273/.365. It seems that in recent weeks, Romine has grown much more comfortable with the timing of the stride step, and the results have been a number of doubles and a reduction in strike outs.
Romine’s recent hot streak is more than luck, as the majority of his hits have been hard extra base fly balls and line drives. Whether he can maintain this level of contact is a different story. Pitchers may recognize a more aggressive approach at the plate and give him less fastballs, or they may simply avoid the strike zone.
Unfortunately, Chris Stewart continues to see playing time despite Romine’s bat. Considering the starting catcher’s offensive and defensive struggles of late, Joe Girardi should be playing Romine more often. At 24 years old, the the catcher has much more upside than Stewart, and the organization desperately needs to get as much as they can from all their young players.