Left without a solution to their open catching position and with few appealing options remaining on the free agent market, it would appear as though there are some within the New York Yankees organization who are growing comfortable with the idea of Austin Romine taking over as the team’s full time catcher. CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman suggested that this is the team’s current plan as they’ve expressed zero interest in A.J. Pierzynski, the most seasoned option available on the open market.
The 24 year old Romine comes with his fair share of question marks, though most can be chalked up to inexperience. Taken originally in the 2nd Round of the 2007 Draft, Romine’s progress through the Yankees’ minor league system has long been a steady climb as he’s had to share each step along the way up until this past season. Romine and Jesus Montero were progressing through the ranks together in many cases, often either sharing time in a quasi-platoon role or essentially following one another (i.e. upon Montero’s first promotion to Triple-A, Romine received his first bump to Double-A). Their fates were often intertwined as well, as many speculated that one would end up being the team’s “catcher of the future” while the other would ultimately serve as trade bait. A year ago Montero was shipped to Seattle, expediting the end of such discussions.
Part of the organization’s comfort in dealing Montero one year ago was based on the season Romine had just completed in 2011. He started the year off repeating Double-A (since Montero was getting the bulk of the playing time at Triple-A) and would end up playing in 85 games for Trenton. Over 373 plate appearances he’d hit .286/.351/.378 with 32 BB and just 60 SO. He’d shown enough to warrant a promotion to Triple-A before season’s end, would appear in four more games there, and then joined the Yankees in mid-September in Los Angeles. Romine’s older brother, Andrew Romine, is a shortstop for the Angels, the opposing team during Austin’s MLB Debut. Austin would collect just three hits over 20 plate appearances before the season ended, playing in 9 games.
Heading into Spring Training in 2012, Romine was expected to compete for the team’s backup catcher job with the likelihood that he’d end up spending some additional time down at Triple-A if needed. Injuries wound up costing him nearly the entire season, however, limiting things to just 31 games and 120 plate appearances in which he’d bat .243/.333/.408. It was essentially a lost season that couldn’t have been more poorly timed.
There are numerous questions about Romine’s ability to call a game, though few question his defensive work behind the plate. His bat, however, does not quite appear ready to translate to an MLB-regular just yet and installing him as the team’s starting catcher may not be the best approach to take at the onset of the new season. Given the team’s other internal options, however, it’s tough to see where there is truly a better all around option than letting the kid gain some experience. He’s going to falter and have his struggles, which can be challenging to overcome under the pressures that come with playing for the Yankees, but he’s going to need to learn sooner rather than later if he’s going to be a part of the team’s immediate future. Long term the team’s “catcher of the future” will likely be Gary Sanchez, but he’s still far enough away from the Major Leagues that there’s some justification for giving Romine a fair chance at proving his worth behind the plate in the interim.