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Austin Romine has had a very quiet spring training. He showed up for pitchers and catchers, and we’ve heard very little of him since. By many accounts, Romine is the #2 prospect in the Yankee organization, and I think quite a bit underrated by everyone commenting on him. Jesus Montero is a much sexier prospect, and his sexiness diminishes Romine’s considerable accomplishments and abilities.
I remember writing about Romine right after he was drafted. My reaction was that the Yankees may have found themselves first-round talent in an obscure high school in Arizona. Romine’s scouting report – good power, a rocket arm, good mobility, and enough athleticism – sounded like a younger version of Toronto’s 1st round pick J.P. Arencibia, who has since mostly succeeded in the minor leagues. The Yankees were able to find Romine because he had little exposure to MLB scouts at his obscure high school, despite all the positive signs, including a family history in the majors.
I prefer to keep things pretty simple when I evaluate prospects. What can Romine do? He can play plus defense at catcher, and he has better hitting skills than most peers at his position. While the hitting skills may or may not develop, the defense is already there. We’ve seen with guys like Omir Santos and Francisco Cervelli that defense alone can carry a catcher to the majors, so he doesn’t have to hit a whole lot on top of that in order to be valuable. Romine might be the most certain commodity in the Yankee system.
I think that there are a number of other reasons to believe Austin Romine will be a successful major league catcher:
- The Florida State League was particularly hard on hitters this season, and Romine, the FSL Player of the Year, still hit .276/.322/.441, improving on his raw power in a much tougher environment than he was subject to in Charleston. While that line seems modest, Romine was in fact top-10 in many offensive categories, including slugging, home runs, doubles, and total bases. He was younger than his competition, and the only catcher (besides Jesus Montero) to show that kind of hitting.
- Austin Romine was only 20 years old in 2009. At the beginning of his third professional season, Romine will be 21 years old and entering Double-A. He will be one of the youngest players at his level. While Jesus Montero was a prodigy who hit for power as a teenager, we can’t expect Romine (nor Montero) to be any where near the end of his hitting development at this stage in his career. He could add even more power.
- The average catcher hit .254/.316/.408 last year. It really doesn’t take a whole lot of stick to be a big competitive advantage as an every-day catcher. We don’t really know how much Jorge Posada’s defense hurts the team, but I’d wager that if you replaced him with a plus defensive catcher, you would earn 2-3 wins at the very least. By that logic, a .750 OPS Romine could be one of the best catchers in the league, which isn’t really asking a lot of a guy who could hit 20 home runs.
Overall, Yankee fans should have a lot of confidence in their second-best hitting prospect. A year from now, I could easily foresee a scenario where Romine is a top-50 prospect in all of baseball.
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