Yankees' Dynamic Catching Duo Inspires Confidence





TAMPA—Everybody in the organization believes that catchers Jesus Montero and Austin Romine will play in the big leagues.

Montero mashed his way to Double-A last season as a 19-year-old, while Romine, all of 20 years old at the time, won MVP honors in the high Class A Florida State League, helping Tampa to the league title.

But because of their youth, neither receiver had a chance to make the Yankees. But when Montero and Romine were sent out from big league camp on March 21, manager Joe Girardi gushed about the duo. He would know. He caught in the big leagues for 15 seasons.

Regarding Montero, who reportedly lost 20 pounds during camp: "He has made strides in his catching and made strides in shortening his arm stroke. He can really hit. Like Romine, he needs to go play, mature and learn the finer points of catching and the pitcher-catcher relationships."

The Yankees are so smitten with Montero's bat that they may turn to him, if certain conditions are met, during the season, Girardi said. Such a move hinged on Montero's hitting performance—likely for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre—and the Yankees' need for more offense.

The 20-year-old Montero, who signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for $1.6 million, has hit .325 overall in three pro seasons. Last year he added a helping of patience and power, batting .337/.389/.562 with 17 homers.

While Romine, 21, is farther along behind the plate than Montero, he is not in Montero's class as a hitter. He batted .276/.322/.441 with 13 home runs for Tampa last season.

"I was impressed with both of them—their work, their willingness to learn and their ability to take what you give them and apply it to the game," Girardi said.

Romine, whose father Kevin played for the Red Sox and whose brother Andrew is a shortstop in the Angels system, is clearly the best defensive catcher the Yankees have in the system.

"He can catch, there is no doubt about that," Girardi said of Romine, a second-round pick in 2007 from Lake Forest, Calif. "He just needs to play."

YANKEE DOODLES

• The Yankees returned big league Rule 5 pick Jamie Hoffmann to the Dodgers on March 22. He batted .130/.259/.174 with a double, collecting three hits in 23 spring at-bats.

• Live-armed righthander Ivan Nova pitched well in big league camp (2.25 ERA in four innings, with three strikeouts) but had little chance of cracking the Yankees' deep pitching staff. New York optioned him to Triple-A.