Spring Training 2013 is different than any in recent memory for the New York Yankees. The discrepancy for the Yankees is they are in Tampa and have no idea who will be the starting catcher on Opening Day. Deciding on a starting catcher this close to the start of the season is a not a problem the Yankees have had in over a decade.
The three players battling for the job are: Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Austin Romine; not one has ever been a full-time starter in MLB. Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman said today that he believes Romine will start the season in the minors, so it could be down to two.
Jorge Posada is a guest instructor in 2013, maybe it was because the Yankees were hoping he would pull an Andy Pettitte, and come back to the team, but in all reality, it is a great year for him to attend camp. There have not been many Yankee catchers better than Posada, and he is the perfect guy to help teach these three how to be a great Yankee catcher.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi knows a lot about being a World Series catcher for the Yankees too; he knows how to teach and mentor a catcher, as he did with Posada. It is great for the Yankees to have two men that can not only help the three catchers, but also have the eye to see who is better, because the talk of the Yankees going with all three is a horrible idea. It would not only prevent the catchers from getting into a groove, it would also hurt the veteran pitchers.
There already has been a lot of talk about the catcher who is leading the way, Francisco Cervelli, even though he has had many problems in recent years. Cervelli was the player the Yankees were expecting to be the next catcher, but until this spring, he has only disappointed the team. That disappointment has led to Cervelli spending most of his time in the minors. This is a new year and apparently a new Cervelli, as he has been very impressive.
Girardi has spoken at length about Cervelli coming to camp in shape and prepared. Girardi also has noticed how important it is to Cervelli to earn the starting job, saying he was happy Cervelli decided to back out of the WBC to stay with the team and work more with the Yankees pitchers and coaches.
One of the areas that Girardi has told his catchers not to focus on is their offensive statistics. He wants them to be a solid defensive catcher that can call games. Offensive production is just an added benefit.
If defense is what Girardi is using as his measuring stick, Cervelli has one foot in the Opening Day lineup. He has shown his arm strength this spring with precise missiles, nailing his throws around the diamond, as well as being able to block the plate with consistency.
In the Yankees first Spring Training game, Cervelli showed everyone that he came better prepared and stronger defensively than he ever has. In the game Saturday, Cervelli threw out a runner and was blocking pitches in the dirt like a 10-year veteran. Girardi noticed and said after the game that he was “impressed by Cervelli’s blocking of the balls,” but Girardi could not get his mind off the throw made by Cervelli early in the game. “I mean, that was a beautiful throw,” Girardi said, “You can’t make it any better than that, that’s a very good sign.”
Cervelli has silenced some critics who in the past have questioned every part of his game, especially his defense. He has done this by coming to camp having worked all off-season to be a solid, defensive catcher. Coming in and catching his manager’s attention by being the catcher the Yankees are looking for is also a step in the right direction.
Spring Training has just started, but it is refreshing one of the three catchers has jumped ahead of the pack, because the thought of a rotation behind the plate is scary. If Cervelli can continue to show off all he worked on in the winter, he will win the job and the entire team will benefit knowing they have their everyday catcher.
Nik Swartz is the Featured Columnist for the New York Yankees. Follow him on Twitter @Sweetnesz13