Sunday, May 23, 2010

Murphy, the Best of the Bunch?

In spring training if I was told that by the middle of May the Yanks would need a catcher, I would have said that this could be Jesus Montero's first opportunity to show what he could do in the majors. In his first few years of professional ball he has been dominating offensively. Longing for a highly touted prospect like Montero to make it big, the buzz over the blogs by Yankee fans was very heated.

However, much to our disappointment he has seemed to have hit a road block in Triple-A. Though there have been signs of him improving defensively as a catcher, his first couple months with Scranton have been disappointing offensively. He appears to be frustrated and has already been benched a few days for not hustling.

With Montero struggling and the Yanks in need for a catcher, we look around the farm system and remember that over the last year or so the Yankees have concentrated on building depth at that position. The young talent at catcher starts with Francisco Cervelli who has improved so much that he is now the every day catcher as Posada recovers from injury. In the minors, Austin Romine is probably the closest to being Big League ready. He has always been in Montero's shadow, but many think he will pass him by as catcher and as an all around player. Romine who is 21 has moved progressively through the system each year and is currently playing for Double-A Trenton. Son of former major leaguer Kevin Romine, he has been on fire lately, batting .323 with 3 home runs and 27 RBI and has always been good with the glove.

Despite having 3 solid catching prospects, last year the Yankees used their 2nd round pick to select another one, J.R. Murphy. The 6-foot, 190-pound catcher had just finished hitting .627 with 11 home runs at The Pendleton School at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He had committed to the University of Miami but the Yankees convinced him to sign by throwing a $1.25 million bonus in front of him. He only started catching in his senior year of high school so he is raw behind the plate but his hitting is what catches everyone's attention.

Tim Bontemps had a nice article on him recently: Coach: Murphy may be best of backstop bunch, where he quoted Yankees scout Jeff Deardorff describing observations on Murphy leading up to the draft: “Every time we saw him, he was 2-for-3 with a double, 3-for-3 with a double.”

The 19 year old is a pure hitter which many think is advanced for his age. In addition, he appears to be a quick learner. In the article his high school coach Kevin Sharp had this to say:

“From a baseball standpoint, what stands out is his ability to recognize things at a much more rapid pace than people in his age group,” he said. “Strike zone recognition, recognizing little things the pitchers are doing ... he picks up little nuances of the game like no one else."

The coach said this when asked if he thought Murphy could emerge as the best of the group of Yankees catching prospects:

“I know that it’s just gonna be a matter of him putting in the time,” Sharp said. “He’s the type of kid who gets immersed in a setting and can adjust like no one else. Give him two months at any level, and he’s gonna figure it out.

Well he looks to be adapting to professional baseball very well also. Murphy, currently ranked as the 8th best prospect in the Yankee system, started in extended spring training. He has skipped short season ball and was promoted to full season Low A Charleston earlier this week. He started quickly hitting .333 with 8 hits in 24 at bats and 6 RBIs.

Also in article, Yankees' senior vice president of baseball operations, Mark Newman had this to say about Murphy:

“Well, he’d played a fair amount and had quite a few at bats in extended spring [training], and he needed another challenge,” Newman said of Murphy’s promotion. “He was a very advanced hitter out of the draft and came from a very good program. He’s a sophisticated young hitter, and we wanted to challenge him a little bit.”

So it looks like we can add Murphy to what is probably the deepest group of catching prospects in baseball. His high school coach thinks he will be the best of bunch.

(Photo credit: Pinstripes Plus)

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