Francisco Cervelli was going to be the starting catcher for the New York Yankees in 2013. Then a foul tip on Apr. 26 fractured his right hand and he needed surgery. Then he had an elbow problem while rehabbing. The nosedive was complete when he was suspended 50 games for his connection to Biogenesis. Cervelli had achieved his dream of being a starting Major League catcher, but like a house of cards in a hurricane, it all fell apart.
2014 is a new year. Cervelli knew he would not be the everyday starter, but he entered Spring Training as the favorite to back up Brian McCann behind the dish. Thus far, he has absolutely dominated the competition. In eight games, he’s batted .474/.524/.1000 with three home runs and five RBIs. By comparison, Austin Romine has batted .238/.273/.238 without a home run or an RBI while J.R. Murphy has batted .105/.150/.263 with a home run and five RBIs.
Suffice to say, Cervelli is blowing everyone away. I mean, look at those numbers – his batting average is higher than Murphy’s OPS and only slightly below Romine’s! It’s a small sample size by which to gauge each player’s Major League preparedness, but it’s telling nonetheless.
Cervelli has clearly distanced himself from the pack for the backup job. If Opening Day were tomorrow he would be the hands down choice as the second string catcher. However, he’s played so well he could ultimately become a starter – with another team, that is.
The Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks are two of the teams who have heavily scouted Cervelli. Because the Yankees have a surplus in catching and a deficit in the infield and bullpen, Cervelli could be used as a trade piece to upgrade the weaker areas of the roster.
At the same time, however, the Yankees are going to try and keep McCann healthy, which means a steady diet of DH-ing. Thus, they will be incredibly reliant on their backup backstop. The offensive failures of Romine and Murphy could require the team to hold onto Cervelli in order to fill that hole with a legitimate Big Leaguer.
Cervelli has eclipsed the level of play required to be a backup catcher. He’s definitely going to be a Major League catcher in 2014. The only question is whether he’ll be the Yankees’ backup or another team’s starter.