A few years ago, the catching position was by far the deepest position in the system, and perhaps one of the deepest in baseball. In 2011, the Yankees had 3 top 100 prospects, all from the catching position -- Jesus Montero, Gary Sanchez, and Austin Romine. While the system is not as deep now as it was then, there are a still a few noteworthy players at the position in the farm. In total, the Yankees have a lot of prospects slated to start 2014 in Double-A or higher, and a few interesting catching prospects below Single-A.
Major League Ready:
The first player in this category was a part of the strong 2011 class, but has since fallen from grace. Romine's decline as a prospect is centered around a string of injuries. These injuries limited Romine over the past few seasons. At the time of his call-up he only had played 31 games in AAA, and that was over a span of two seasons.
So while Romine didn't perform well last year, we can probably say that most of his struggles were related to the lack of playing time he received in the past few years. After all Romine is still a rookie, and it often takes catchers a lot of time to reach their potential. Romine still has time to reach his ceiling as an average catcher, but his stock has never been lower.
Before his injuries Romine was a similar prospect to J.R. Murphy the next prospect on this list. Murphy and Romine both seem to have 15 homerun potential, with okay bats, and need to show more patience at the plate. They are also both slated to start the 2013 season in AAA and both could be a useful trade chips.
However Murphy's current value is a lot higher than Romine's, because he has a lot more recent success. Because of this most people consider Murphy a top 5 Yankee prospect, and a player that could start at the majors right now. In a recent article Keith Law said “going to be an every-day catcher for somebody”
At this point Murphy is considered a good defensive catcher who would be able to hit .270 with 10-15 homeruns in the majors. Murphy and Romine both have more upside than Francisco Cervelli, and might be worth holding on to. After all Brian Mccann has gotten injured a bit over the years.
Depth Below AAA:
The Yankees best prospect, at any position, is Gary Sanchez. While a few Yankee prospects have have enormous ceilings, no one in the system comes close to matching Sanchez's yet. Sanchez is a future MVP candidate if everyone goes right. That's because his defense is finally catching up to his bat.
Sanchez always had a great arm, and threw at runners at a high clip, but last year he improved the other aspects of his defensive game. His only big weakness on defense is the fact that allows so many passed balls. This isn't a huge concern of mine because of his age, and the fact that it's hard to tell the difference between a wild pitch and a passed ball in the minors.
Sanchez's floor as an offensive player may be greater than Murphy's or Romine's ceiling. If everything goes right for Sanchez he may be able to hit for average and 20-30 homeruns a season. Sanchez will begin the 2014 season at AA, and will probably get another late season promotion if he does well. Considering Sanchez's upside it would be a mistake to trade him right now.
Like Sanchez, Peter O'Brien also has great power, however that's where their similarities seem to end.O'bien has two major weaknesses. The first is defense which some think will force him to switch positions, and the second is his contact rate.
O'Brien is big for his position, and while he is agile he hasn't really shown he can play the position. This part of the reason that he was moved to third base last season. Though that move was probably made necessary by the presence of Gary Sanchez. At the moment O'Brien may be the Yankees version of Evan Gattis, as he can play multiple positions, but will probably be viewed as DH with a glove.
However the Yankees believe in his defense and it often hard to really evaluate catching defense. At the moment he still is a catcher and people should give him time to improve at the position before dismissing the possibility. O'Brien biggest concern should be limiting his strikeouts, as he had a 134 Ks last year. If he manages to cut down on his strikeouts his bat will become even more intriguing, and at that point it won't matter where he plays.
The biggest sleeper in this category and perhaps in this system is Luis Torrens. Torrens was the Yankees biggest international signing in 2012. He signed for 1.3 million. At the time he had never even played the catcher position. However, he quickly has become a good defensive catcher.
Considering how long it took the Yankees to make Sanchez and Murphy acceptable defensive players, this is a pretty big deal. Now all he has to do is reach his offensive potential and he may be able to one day become the best all-around prospect in the system. And no one really questions his bat, which is why he was able to make Baseball America top 20 GCL list without putting up great numbers.
This is what Law had to say about Torren's potential, “A new convert to catching, Torrens took to it extremely well, with plus hands and plus defense overall, with a good swing and feel at the plate, only lacking power but likely hitting for average with good OBP when he develops.”
At the moment it doesn't seem like Torrens has any competition to be considered the top catching prospect below AA. But there still are a couple of other guys that could break out. One such prospect is Eduardo De Oleo, who finished the year strong. Oleo had a .783 OPS overall, but most of it was produced in August. Considering he is only 21 years old now there's still time for him to prove he is a real prospect.
Like Oleo, catchers Alvaro Noriega, Jesus Aparicio,and Brian Reyes had good numbers in their respectives leagues (GCL or DSL), but aren't currently thought of as top guys. This could change next year as Reyes, and Aparicio both may make their state-side debuts. At the moment they all have shown good offensive ability, but the lower you go in down the minor league ladder the less stats really matter.
The last two sleepers may make the majors for their defensive ability but have shown little at the plate. Kyle Higashioka, and Trent Garrison are both capable of playing the position but they are thought to have limited offensive potential.
This wasn't always the case with Higashioka, as he was once thought to have the potential to hit, but he has failed to meet those expectations. Last year, in a tiny sample size,seemed to be start of a very good season for him (.880 OPS in first 7 games), but an injury kept him out for most of the year. In 2014 Higashioka will have to beat out the likes of Romine, Murphy, Sanchez and O'Brien for playing time.
Garrison was a .300 hitter in college but his time in Staten Island suggests that he will have difficulty hitting advanced pitching. A 23 year old generally shouldn't struggle that much in rookie ball. However he will have a chance to redeem himself next year, as the Yankees don't have a major catching prospect in Low A or High A.