Francisco Cervelli has always been a decent hitter, and for a catcher, decent hitters can go a long way. His injury history hasn’t been as kind to him as his offensive stats, and collisions at the plate have been a culprit in his inconsistency since he was a prospect in the minor leagues. When the catcher performed well in 2013, many thought it was a fluke after hitting .269/.377/.500 in 61 plate appearances. Yet another injury shortened his season, and then even more suspicion surrounded his stats when he was caught up in the Biogenesis investigation.
Cervelli’s little breakout performance was regarded as a product of whatever drugs Anthony Bosch provided to him, but now he’s given us a reason to rethink that. While I’m not a fan of assuming great power performances are necessarily a product of some sort of PED, I can understand the suspicion with Cervelli, as he’s just half a year removed from a drug violation. But after a 50 game suspension and nearly a year off from baseball, it would be hard to imagine that Cervelli is willing to risk a second suspension by staying on banned drugs.
When Cervelli first started hitting this spring, it was easy to write it off as small sample size and easy and unready competition. Now that we’ve entered that last week and a half of baseball, the catcher has just kept slugging the ball, as the video above shows. While I’m not sold on Cervelli being a .500 hitter for the 2014 season, he deserves some attention with this type of performance.
The Yankees will obviously use Brian McCann regardless of what Cervelli does over the next 9 days. If he has truly improved his bat, Cervelli will still be destined to play a backup or bench role, and some may consider that wasted value. Unfortunately, it’s likely too late in spring to try him at another position as a starting second baseman or third baseman. Without recent experience, the team would be crazy to move him over there full time just to fit his bat in the lineup. With his ability to pitch frame and block the plate, moving him to another position would also limit his value as a catcher.
The organization should and will make a decision on Cervelli soon. If he keeps hitting the way he does, he’ll need to find regular time somewhere. As he’s been used as an emergency infielder before, the team could see what he’s capable of at third base for a couple of games before official games open up, and perhaps he can slowly learn the position as a right-handed platoon to Kelly Johnson, as well as continue to backup McCann behind the plate. This scenario is a little farfetched, and the team might be best served by trading him to a convinced team for an infielder. Even in this scenario, I don’t see any teams willing to give up a ton for an out of options player with his track record.
I find it hard to believe in Cervelli, as his injury history is poor and his impressive hitting has come in small sample size. But as the righty continues to slug and the baseball collision rules become more protective over catchers, I think it’s time the Yankees start to figure out how to maximize his value. Whether it’s moving him to another position or trading him, Cervelli is starting to prove that he needs more at bats somewhere.