NEW YORK–A solid season elevated catcher Kyle Higashioka to the Yankees’ 40-man roster, a move that was a reward for a breakout year at the plate. He always has shown above-average defense behind the plate.
And while being on the roster for the first time isn’t a guaranteed ticket to the big leagues, it’s a big step for a player who has been in the system for nine years.
“I do think there is a chance,” said Higashioka, 26, about eventually catching for the Yankees. “I am being realistic about it. I know things need to happen. But the organization has liked me enough to keep me around even with a crowded roster.”
A career .233 hitter entering 2016, he credits his hitting success to viewing several film sessions of elite hitters.
“I watched major league hitters and what they do, and I made some changes,’’ said Higashioka, who split time at Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. “I leveled out my swing plane a little bit, and I hit offspeed pitches better than in the past.”
Higashioka hit .276/.337/.511 with 21 home runs, 24 doubles and 81 RBIs in 102 games for Trenton and Scranton.
Those numbers caught the attention of other clubs who contacted general manager Brian Cashman about Higashioka, a 2008 seventh-rounder out of high school in Huntington Beach, Calif. He remained with the Yankees in 2015 and 2016 when he could have left as a minor league free agent each time.
With rookie catcher Gary Sanchez vaulting past Brian McCann into the starting role with a sizzling final two months in 2016, Higashioka has no chance of sticking as Sanchez’s backup in 2017—not unless McCann is traded.
If McCann is traded, Higashioka would compete with Austin Romine to be the backup.
• With shortstop Didi Gregorius coming off a solid second season with the Yankees and the highly regarded Gleyber Torres being acquired from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman deal, the Yankees have a logjam at shortstop. The club also has several talented shortstops at the lower levels of the system.
• The Yankees used shortstop Jorge Mateo at second base at high Class A Tampa and then put him in center field at instructional league. During the Arizona Fall League the club used shortstop Tyler Wade in center field.