As we enter the final month of the season, the Yankees have some how stayed competitive. A recent string of loses hasn’t made their playoff odds look any better, but at just 4.5 games behind the Athletics for a wild card position, making the playoffs is still doable. Most of ours minds are on the past and the present, how the Yankees got to this point in the season and what they now need to do at waiver trade deadline. But the organization also needs to remain mindful of the future.
Perhaps the weakest position for the Yankees is catching. We’ve seen Francisco Cervelli go on a tear, Chris Stewart frame pitches, and Austin Romine get on base. Unfortunately for Cervelli, injuries and a PED suspension have shortened his season, and these factors bring into question his ability to play full time in the future. What kind of production will the Yankees get out of a catcher who can’t stay on the field even with PED use? Meanwhile, Chris Stewart can’t hit. A lot of data says that he’s a great pitch framer, but it’s hard to tell if that makes up for his impotent bat.
Austin Romine has shown flashes of strength behind the plate and in the batter’s box. Though his defense is no guarantee, he looks to have a strong enough arm to at least produce along with the league average when throwing out runners, and his ability to block the plate seems sufficient enough. More importantly, Romine has recently produced offensively. Though his 2013 slash is a disappointing .226/.280/.322, Romine has shown vast signs of improvement. Since July, the catcher is hitting .321/.403/.472 in 63 plate appearances. This could be due to small sample size, but the increase in production correlates with a different approach at the plate.
The added leg kick has obviously correlated with more contact, as well as additional extra base hit. Perhaps the biggest difference in his offensive production comes in his plate discipline. Where in the first two months of the season, Romine accumulated 17 strike outs and 0 walks, the catcher now hast 14 strike outs and 8 walks in his most recent 2 months. Comfort at the plate and a leg kick have made the catcher an offensive weapon since the All Star break, and it’s unfortunate that we haven’t seen him play more often.
With such little data, Romine’s bat remains a huge question mark. In the minor leagues, he showed some signs of power, contact, and plate discipline, but injuries in 2011 and 2012 cut his seasons short. Even with a handful of plate appearances in 2013, we’re still not sure what kind of future Romine has. The limited success isn’t nearly enough to believe in, and the Yankees seem unwilling to allow him regular playing time.
He’s young, under team control, and has potential. As the Yankees enter the 2013 to 2014 offseason, they’ll likely be confronted with the opportunity to upgrade their catching position. Brian McCann, Carlos Ruiz, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are all free agents this offseason, and the Yankees will have some money to spend, especially if Alex Rodriguez ever faces his 211 game suspension. With Romine producing over the last two months, the Yankees need to find out if his bat is for real, if he has a future as a starter or as a backup. No matter what he does in September, playing him will at least hint to the organization whether or not they need to spend on a catcher in December and January.