After signing a five-year, $85 million contract this past offseason, Brian McCann is a lock to be the starting catcher for the New York Yankees. The backup catcher is yet to be determined, but the picture is becoming clearer.
Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy arrived at Spring Training as the favorites to back up McCann (in that order). Meanwhile, prospect Gary Sanchez could provide a glimpse into the future of Bombers’ backstops.
Right now, Cervelli is absolutely crushing the competition for the backup job. In four games, he’s 5-for-9 at the plate (.556) with a home run, two RBI, two walks and four runs scored. He hasn’t struck out.
By comparison, Romine (last year’s backup) is just 2-for-11 (.182) with a run scored in five games played. Thus far, he’s proved that his lack of power last season was no fluke as he is yet to hit a long ball or drive in a run. He has also struck out three times.
Murphy has also struggled. In seven games, he’s 2-for-13, also with three strikeouts. On the positive side, he’s driven in four runs and one of his hits was a long ball.
I realize how deceiving these statistics can be because it’s such a small sample size. For instance, if Romine goes 3-for-3 in his next game his average will jump to .357. Nevertheless, watching their at-bats, you can clearly see that Cervelli’s hitting the ball harder than any of the other backup candidates and harder than many of the other players on the team. When you also consider Cervelli’s defensive prowess (the best among the three candidates), he has clearly emerged as the early favorite to be McCann’s backup.
It’s strange that so much attention is being paid to a race for a backup job, but whoever fills this role on the Yankees will not be a typical bench player. Due to the physical demands of catching, backup catchers typically play more often than second-stringers at any other position simply because the starter needs a rest. What is more, the Yankees are going to do everything they can to save McCann’s knees and keep him healthy. That means a steady diet of DH-ing. Thus, the catcher who wins the backup job is going to see a fairly significant amount of playing time, or at the very least, more than they’d see as a backup on another team.
McCann is a lock for the starting job at catcher. If Opening Day were tomorrow, Cervelli would be a lock as his backup.