As Keith Law points out in his most recent column, the Brian McCann signing, while great for the Yankees, creates a significant roadblock in the futures of catching prospects Gary Sanchez and J.R. Murphy.
For Sanchez, an elite prospect who has been featured on every Baseball America top 100 since 2011, the McCann signing poses more of a threat to his long term earnings than to his future as big league regular. Sanchez, 20, has always been a hitter first and a catcher second. Despite consistently playing as one of the youngest players in his respective league, he has always hit, posting OPS’s in the .820s as a teenager in low and high-A. His OPS this past season was only .736, but that can be mostly discarded as the Florida State League is a notoriously poor hitter’s environment.
Sanchez could very easily be moved to a corner of Yankee Stadium – either in the infield or outfield – and hit well enough to start, perhaps even make a couple all Star Teams. That being said, his fielding behind the dish has improved to the point where he could be a viable catcher, and he could be a 100 Million dollar player there. Keith Law even wrote that he was a potential MVP candidate if he remained behind the plate.
Temporarily disregarding teammate JR Murphy, this could work out in one of three ways ways. First, Sanchez could make his debut in 2014 and plays all of 2015 at first base or in left field, only occasionally spotting McCann behind the plate. Then as McCann, now an injury riddled catcher on the wrong side of 30, gradually transitions to first base and DH in 2016 and 2017, Sanchez moves over to fill the void at the backstop. Should Sanchez play particularly well in first or left, he could remain there for the rest of his career. Indeed, it is uncommon for a player to switch back to catcher after a move to the other end of the field. Alternately, Sanchez could be put on the trade market, where he would have tremendous value to any organization in need of a catcher.
Murphy’s value, by contrast, comes primarily from his ability to play catcher. He has an adequate bat and some power that could potentially work well at third, but he’s not an elite hitter or prospect like Sanchez and realistically his best chance at major league success is going to come as a receiver. Should the Yankees auction off Sanchez to the highest bidder, Murphy could find himself in the majors as soon as next season, serving as a backup to McCann. He would certainly be a better hitting backup catcher than Chris Stewart and more healthy and reliable than Francisco Cervelli. Then, assuming he plays well, as McCann ages the Yankees would give Murphy more and more playing time behind the plate.
Conversely, the Yankees could try to package Murphy in a deal for an established veteran. He wouldn’t bring the same return as Sanchez, but catching prospects are always in demand and the Yankees could collect a star if they agreed to add a higher-ceiling prospect along the lines of Mason Williams.