Austin Romine, Catcher
Ranked 3rd Best Yankee Prospect
Austin Romine at times had a disappointing season in 2010. After a strong start, Romine hit worse every month than the month before. He had trouble holding runners, and overall wilted as he tired through a full season of catching. That said, I am still confident enough in Romine’s abilities to rate him the 3rd best prospect in the Yankee system.
Romine was probably ill-served by playing next to Jesus Montero for two seasons. He didn’t have a chance to catch full time, that caught up to him this season. While he has tremendous physical tools to play catcher, including a fantastic throwing arm and plenty of agility, Romine is much more raw on defense then you’d like to see a Double-A catcher be. A lot of that unrefined talent is due to his age – he turns 22 next week, and has moved fairly rapidly through the system since being drafted. Catchers take longer to develop than most players, and most players don’t reach Double-A until they are 22 or 23 years old. But a lot of the rawness can also be attributed to playing the position part time for the better part of 2 seasons.
I still think that Romine has the potential to be a great long term catcher. He has proven an ability to hit lots of home runs (for a catcher) at a young age and in tough environments, doesn’t strike out too much, and should play pretty good defense when all is said and done. The average AL catcher hit just .245/.312/.374. Romine can definitely clear that bar, possibly by quite a bit. If he plays solid defense, then all of the sudden we have a real asset at a key position.
Romine’s problem will be, yet again, sharing time with Jesus Montero. No one that I know expects Montero to play catcher full time for his entire career, but know one I know reasonably believes that he’s going to be moved off the position anytime soon. We’re all fans of pointing out that when Mark Teixeira’s contract is up, Jesus will be just 27. But that’s a long way away, and the Yankees can’t just sit Romine on the bench for all that time. They would also squander Montero’s comparative advantage in hitting if they do a DH/C rotation, since Montero would be the de facto DH. In fact, there is little reason to keep that rotation going, since Romine is the far superior defensive player. For this reason, Romine may end up as trade bait. He also may not, who knows. But he will probably end up an above average starting catcher in the major leagues, which means in the long run he will be worth more to a team that is asking him to play more than a part-time role.
Alternatively, the Yankees could opt to go all-in with Romine by either trading Montero or pushing him to a DH/3b/1b/C type role. That is getting a bit ahead of ourselves, because Romine will be at Triple-A for probably all of 2011, but it is worth thinking about. A full season at Triple-A should do Romine some good, as he works to endure 120+ games behind the dish.
(By the way, anyone want to bet he gets exactly 122 hits next year?)
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