Backstop Depth: Yankees versus Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays organization has received some attention recently for its strong catching depth throughout the minor leagues. The club’s division mate and hated rival – aka the New York Yankees organization – has some pretty impressive depth behind the dish, as well. Let’s compare the two systems in regards to this common area of strength.

Edit: Since first publishing the post, I’ve added J.R. Murphy to the analysis at the behest of Yankees fans. I originally chose to include just one catcher per organization per level. I chose to go with just Kyle Higashioka because Murphy has played more games at DH (19) than catcher (14). After re-thinking it, I’ve included both prospects, but it does not alter the conclusions of the article.

AAA

New York Yankees
The Yankees’ best hitting prospect is also the triple-A catcher: Jesus Montero. Despite all the hype, he has shown his human side at the plate this season with a triple-slash line of .235/.298/.378 in 230 at-bats. Montero’s also struck out more times in 2010 (48) than he did all of last year (47 times in 347 at-bats). However, he is just 20 years old and has also been focusing on improving his defense. Montero’s 30+ home run potential is still there, as is his ability to hit .280-.300.

Toronto Blue Jays
J.P. Arencibia is arguably the organization’s best hitting prospect (although you could also make a case for Brett Wallace or even Travis d’Arnaud, whom we’ll discuss in a moment). Arencibia got off to a bit of a slow start in 2010 and was also coming off of a poor triple-A showing in ’09. The 24-year-old has posted a 1.157 OPS with seven homers in June and has an overall triple-slash line of .289/.340/.566 in 242 at-bats. Arencibia has also improved significantly on defense since his college days to the point where many consider him an above-average defensive catcher.

Edge: Montero. If you want to toss a wrinkle into the argument, you could point out that Montero is not likely to remain behind the dish when he reaches the Majors. However, he’s still catching in triple-A, so he’s technically still a catcher until they pry the tools of ignorance away from him. Although Arencibia is the better all-around player, Montero’s offensive ceiling is much higher than the Toronto prospect’s.

AA

New York Yankees
Austin Romine is working hard to show why some analysts consider him a better prospect than Montero (mainly due to his defensive value). I’m not 100% convinced in that way of thinking but you definitely have to see Romine as a special player. Just 21, he’s currently hitting .294/.360/.447 and 20 of his 67 hits have gone for doubles. He also has 39 RBI in 57 games. Romine’s brother Andrew plays in the Angels’ system and father Kevin played parts of seven seasons in the Majors.

Toronto Blue Jays
Brian Jeroloman, 25, has made the best of a difficult situation. The organization has Arencibia in triple-A and it wants the defensive whiz to play everyday so he’s stuck repeating double-A for a third year. He’s also coming off a terrible ’09 season in which he posted a .646 OPS. Always known for having a patient approach, the organization felt he was being too passive and letting too many good pitches go by. He’s made adjustments in ’10 and, while he’s still walking at a good clip, his new approach has worked wonders for his overall numbers: .300/.459/.494 in 160 at-bats.

Edge: Romine. Jeroloman’s defense was always good enough to make him a sure-fire MLB catcher, and now his offensive boost increases his value that much more… but Romine has proven to be a special player. He has shown skill both behind the plate and with a bat in his hand… and both his age and bloodlines give him a big boost in terms of value.

A+

New York Yankees
This is the weak spot in the Yankees’ catching depth. The everyday catcher in Tampa has been Mitch Abeita, a 19th round draft pick out of the University of Nebraska in 2008. He has a 2010 triple-slash line of .244/.351/.314.

Toronto Blue Jays
Travis d’Arnaud’s numbers are not quite as impressive as they were earlier in the season, but the 21-year-old catcher has also battled some back issues (which sidelined him in May). Even so, the right-handed batter has a respectable triple-slash line of .276/.330/.436 in 163 at-bats. Even better, the organization has been impressed with his defense and on-field leadership. He could end up being the key to the Roy Halladay trade with Philly.

Edge: d’Arnaud. With apologies to Abeita, it’s not close at all. The Jays backstop projects to be an all-around, above-average backstop.

A-

New York Yankees
Kyle Higashioka received an above-slot deal as a seventh-round pick out of a California high school in ’08 based on his solid defensive reputation and raw power potential. Not much has changed since then. Higashioka continues to show more on defense than offense and is currently hitting just .194/.277/.304 in 217 at-bats. He needs to learn to hit the ball the other way a little more consistently. By no means a lost cause, the University of California recruit is still just 20 years old and would just be finishing his sophomore year of college.

J.R. Murphy began the year in extended spring training before being moved up to low-A ball to play with Higashioka. The right-handed hitting catcher is currently producing a triple-slash line of .250/.299/.318 in 132 at-bats. Clearly, the offensive numbers are not that impressive right now but he has a lot of potential. The Yankees organization grabbed him out of a Florida high school with a second round pick in the ’09 draft. He’s spent 19 games as a DH and 14 games as a catcher this season. While behind the plate, Murphy has thrown out just 21% of base runners.

Toronto Blue Jays
Like Jeroloman, A.J. Jimenez has been stuck in the depth crunch. d’Arnaud’s presence in high-A is keeping Puerto Rico native in low-A ball for a second straight season. In ’09, Jimenez hit .263/.280/.356 in 278 at-bats. This year, the 20-year-old catcher is hitting .308/.356/.456 in 182 at-bats. He also has a career-high 39 RBI in 50 games. A ninth-round pick during the 2008 draft, Jimenez slid due to health concerns (there was a fear that he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery) but he’s been OK and has even thrown out 54% of base runners in ’10.

Edge: Jimenez. Again, don’t give up on Higashioka or Murphy… The Toronto catcher is just much further along in his development at this time. Jimenez has a good defensive reputation, is a solid athlete, and is turning into a respectable hitter who has made adjustments at the plate.

Short-Season Leagues

New York Yankees
Just 17 years old, Gary Sanchez has already put the baseball world on notice. The offensive-minded catcher is batting .353 with two homers through four Gulf Coast League games. He also has eight RBI. It’s easy to see why he was one of the top international free agents in 2009; he signed for $2.5 million and could end up being a steal.

Toronto Blue Jays
Carlos Perez has one of the highest ceilings of any catcher in short-season ball, which is saying a lot. He’s a solid defensive catcher and he has a great eye at the plate. The 19-year-old Venezuela native hit .291/.364/.433 during his state-side debut in ’09 and he’s hitting .360 with seven RBI and eight runs scored through six New York Penn League games in ’10.

Edge: Let’s call this one a draw. Sanchez may have a higher offensive ceiling, and could easily skyrocket up this chart within 12 months, but we also have 2+ years of very impressive data on Perez. The Yankees prospect is in his first pro season, so I’m admittedly being a little cautious (not to be confused with homer-ism).

* * *

Conclusion: Taking into consideration both depth and overall talent ceiling, I’d give the Jays organization a slight edge, as the club really does have solid prospects at five different levels, where the Yankees system tops out with three solid catching prospects at five levels. New York, though, does have two or the top three catching prospects. There really aren’t any true winners or losers in this; both organizations have enviable catching depth.

Top 10 NYY/TOR Catching Prospects:
1. Jesus Montero, New York
2. J.P. Arencibia, Toronto
3. Austin Romine, New York
4. Travis d’Arnaud, Toronto
5. A.J. Jimenez, Toronto
6/7. Gary Sanchez, New York/Carlos Perez, Toronto
8. Brian Jeroloman, Toronto
9. J.R. Murphy, New York
10. Kyle Higashioka, New York

*In fairness a small caveat applies: I am a Canadian and I have covered the Jays’ minor league system extensively for about seven years. I have tried to remain objective, so take that for what it’s worth…




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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospect analysis. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.


42 Responses to “Backstop Depth: Yankees versus Blue Jays”

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  1. Jackmanf says:

    Hey, why did you leave out JR Murphy of the Yankees?

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  2. Michael says:

    Really enjoyed the analysis! Think there’s a chance the Jays will move John Buck at the deadline in order to give Arencibia some at-bats? I guess it will depend on whether or not they’re still in the race, but if they do begin to fall out of the hunt could you see that happening?

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  3. CaseyB says:

    Just curious. What makes a 21-year-old catcher at AA with a .794 OPS, career minor league .779 OPS, and career minor league CS% of 25% (and just 19% this year) a “special player?”

    Those are good numbers for a catcher, but nothing that seems to jump out.

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    • Mitchell says:

      “Special” is likely an overstatement. However, those are pretty solid numbers for a catcher at such a young age. I could see him becoming Mike Napoli in a few years. But, I wouldn’t call mike Napoli “special.”

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    • Angelo says:

      Because Romine is doing this in a notoriously known pitchers park and he’s only 21 years old. There’s a lot to like there. His numbers are only going to improve as he gets older and fills out more.

      Pitcher’s park (home field) stats: .201/.293/.297 with a .588 OPS

      Away from home stats: .372/.424/.570 with a .994 OPS

      I’m not saying he’s a .994 OPS kind of hitter, but it’s closer to the type of hitter that he is, as compared to the poor numbers in the spacious home field.

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      • CaseyB says:

        The away splits for this year are very good, but it’s only a few months. All last year he hit in a neutral park and he wasn’t anything “special.”

        Maybe you should wait till he does this for a full year (good away splits) or hits well at AAA before calling him special. It isn’t always a given that a prospect’s hitting will improve as he progresses through the minors.

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  4. ShantM says:

    I think omitting JR Murphy from this analysis was unfair.

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  5. Jack says:

    no J.R. Murphy?

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  6. TtD says:

    If we’re doing the missing catcher comparison for Murphy, it would be Yan Gomes as the backup at A, so you’d have a slight edge. Gomes is a doubles hitting defensive catcher but is a little old for level, being utterly blocked.

    As far as missed players on the Jays end, it’s a shame to see no mention of Santiago Nessy, the 16 year-old starting catcher for our DSL team who the Jays are expecting big things from. Too early to comment on him really beyond his huge K numbers, but we hope he’ll shape up well given the tools.

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  7. Marc Hulet says:

    If you check the top of the article, you’ll see this: Edit: Since first publishing the post, I’ve added J.R. Murphy to the analysis at the behest of Yankees fans. I originally chose to include just one catcher per organization per level. I chose to go with just Kyle Higashioka because Murphy has played more games at DH (19) than catcher (14). After re-thinking it, I’ve included both prospects, but it does not alter the conclusions of the article.

    After for omitting Nessy, I chose to stay out of the Dominican Summer League. He would definitely have been considered if he had come over to play in the DSL but he still would not have won out over Carlos Perez for consideration in short-season leagues.

    Yan Gomes would not have been the comparison for Murphy because Gomes is in high-A and Murphy is in low-A… you’d have to go with Karim Turkamani, who has impressed me with his ability to go five days without playing and then still be able to hit… If he keeps that up, he could end up being a useful back-up catcher at higher levels.

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  8. awayish says:

    would the yankees trade montero for the excellent catching prospects across all levels of the jays?

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  9. kevinM says:

    Montero’s BABIP is 40-50 points below his career numbers coming into the season, while his LD% is stable. His strikeout rate is up, but it’s still been below 20% most of the season. I really wouldn’t worry about his numbers this year.

    Romine’s numbers aren’t special, but they’re good for a catcher hitting in Charleston, Tampa, and Trenton.

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  10. ddriver80 says:

    I don’t get why people have Montero rated so highly above Arencibia. Montero’s numbers are good, but look at their splits through at each level.

    Montero:

    AAA: .243/.304/695, iso: .149, 8.2% walk rate, 19.1% K rate
    AA: .317/.370/.909, iso: .222, 7.7% walk rate, 12.6% K rate
    A+: .356/.406/.989, iso: .228, 7.1% walk rate, 15.8% K rate

    Arencibia:

    AAA: .257/.301/.793, iso: .235, 6% walk rate, 22.3% K rate
    AA: .282/.302/.798, iso: .214, 2.5% walk rate, 21% K rate
    A+: .315/.344/.904, iso: .246, 4.2% walk rate, 18.5% K rate

    Not trying to say Arencibia is the better prospect, but Jesus Montero is alot like Joba Chamberlain, overhyped since he’s a yankee.

    And to say Montero has the higher power potential, look at their iso over the scope of their minor league careers.

    JM: .177 iso (1327 PA)
    JPA: .215 iso (1551 PA)

    Yeah, JM is younger, but JPA will actually stay behind the dish, and provide +D.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      Looking at the stats you posted, Montero was about 50 points higher across the slash line in both A and AA, and he walked more, and he struck out less. Arencibia’s average ISO was .005 higher, but that’s about all he had going for him.

      Montero is in his first year of AAA, Arencibia is in his second. Arencibia does have better AAA numbers, but that’s because he’s shown significant improvement in his second year at that level. If we compare just their first years at AAA, we get:

      JM: .254/.317/.739, .168 ISO, 9.4% walk rate, 20% K rate
      JPA: .236/.284/.728, .192 ISO, 5% walk rate, 24.5 K rate

      And, lo and behold, they’re pretty similar (except, again, Montero’s got better slash numbers, a lower ISO, more walks, and fewer Ks).

      Finally, and this is pretty important, Montero is *four years younger* than Arencibia. He’s had comparable or, more frequently, better numbers than Arencibia at every level of their development. The only difference is that Montero’s development is happening four years before Arencibia’s. By the time Montero is Arencibia’s age now, he’ll be in the Majors, and he won’t be a rookie.

      So no, it’s not just Yankees-related hype. Montero is certainly getting extra attention because of the organization he’s a part of, but he’s also a very, very good talent. His defense is not as good as Arencibia’s, and only time will tell whether Montero’s offense as a DH makes up for his lack of defensive production. But at the very least, it’s pretty clear by now that Montero is the better hitter, and that’s not just hype.

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  11. ju1ced says:

    Look at their ages at each level. lol

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  12. Don W says:

    I laugh at those that think Austin Romine’s numbers aren’t special. Trenton is and extreme pitcher’s park. His away OPS is 0.994 while at home it’s 0.561. The Yankees A- A & AA parks are all extreme pitcher’s parks so their hitters numbers suffer.

    I don’t have a big problem with the writer’s conclusion but I don’t think he gave age at the level the players were performing at quite enough credit. He calls Arencibia the better all-around player but he’s 4 years older. In a straight across trade to get Montero the Jays would have to throw in an impact ML player as well as Arencibia. He then rates Arencibia ahead of Romine even though Romine is three years younger, only one level behind and Arencibia’s #’s are PCL & Las Vegas inflated. Jeroloman’s #’s look great but I sincerely doubt he’ll continue his .450 BABIP. The guy is a future reserve catcher at best. You start getting into the low minors and players are so far away it’s all a crap shoot. My guess is Sanchez has the most trade value and is two years younger that the player he’s being compared against. I have no issue with calling it a draw at Rookie ball though because both are a long way from having proved they are top prospects. Overall I think the lower level Jays’ catchers are combining potential with performance and have a prospect at each level so they deserve the lower level wins. It appears to be a run away for the Yanks at AAA & AA where they a top level prospect at each level.

    It seems that the Yankees have most of the players that look like they could be impact players in the majors and more talent close to the majors. I doubt you could pry away Montero and possibly even Romine with a package of the top 3 BJ catchers I can’t imagine the fact that the Yankees have one level with a non-prospect would out weight that.

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    • CaseyB says:

      Tampa is not an extreme pitcher’s park. It is considered more or less neutral. Romine put up a .763 OPS at Tampa last year. That may be “special” to Yankee fans, but I think most objective fans would disagree. Romine has good numbers but I fail to see anything “special” in them.

      Now maybe he has intangibles that make him special, but the author of the article didn’t state state.

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  13. Mike K. says:

    I’d just like to say that I’ve seen a bit of Montero play this year (partial season ticket holder for SWB Yankees), and the past two games he’s looked MUCH more comfortable at the plate and driving the ball, and after last night his slash is up to .248/.308/.407. I also think he’s done fine behind the plate. He’s not going to get any comparisons to Ivan Rodriguez, but I could see him being somewhat like Posada. That is, most years a little below average, a few years being a slight positive, and a few years being bad. He probably won’t be bad enough that he shouldn’t be catching until after he turns 30. IMHO.

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  14. fren. says:

    Montero just went through a slump (albeit somewhat lengthy) but he’s hitting again. That should give the Yankees the edge, although this was a fairly awkward comparison to begin with.

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  15. walter says:

    Having spent some time in Toronto I would say the Red Sox are a more “hated” rival than the Yankees.

    The Yankees are feared and respected and yes, resented to some degree. But Boston seems to really get on a lot of people’s nerves.

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  16. jack says:

    Fangraphs has really gone down hill this year. This article is filled with bias, and I’m a Padre fan saying that.

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  17. kevinM says:

    Why would anyone compare a player who’s 20 years-old in AAA with a guy who was a sophomore in college at that age?

    Tampa itself is a neutral run environment, while the FSL as a whole is the toughest league to hit in the minors.

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  18. greenfrog says:

    I’m not sure I wouldn’t take Arencibia over Montero. Arencibia is a plus defender and is absolutely raking. He’s now up to 303/353/602 at AAA (and it’s not just the Vegas environment – he’s actually hitting better on the road).

    Arencibia’s superior defense should count for an awful lot in the AAA comp. I’m not saying that Montero won’t turn out to be the better player (his youth and track record probably still give him the offensive edge), just that the two prospects are a lot closer in value than was thought to be the case, say, four months ago. And in evaluating players, teams are increasingly placing a higher value on defensive ability.

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    • Rex Manning Day says:

      I don’t think Arincibia raking in his second year at AAA, while 24 years old, catches him up all that much to Montero, slumping in his first year at AAA, at only 20 years old.

      Arincibia’s doing better right now, but he should be. He’s 4 years older and has an extra year of experience at AAA. Of course he should have better numbers. I doubt too many scouts think Arincibia will still have better offensive numbers than Montero one year from now, though.

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      • greenfrog says:

        True, but you never know with prospects. The fact that Montero is only 20 is no guarantee that he’ll be posting a 1000+ OPS in three or four years. Arencibia doesn’t have to “catch up” to anyone – he just has to keep on doing what he’s doing. Conversely, Montero has to establish not only that he can hit in AAA but also that he can competently catch ballgames.

        Don’t get me wrong – Montero is likely still the better prospect, and may end up having a Pujols-like career in the majors (note: Pujols had a 1013 OPS in his first full MLB season, in 590 AB, at age 21). My point is that Arencibia’s offensive surge and superior catching skills *may* be closing the gap between the two. The comp is less of a slam dunk in Montero’s favour than it used to be.

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  19. teejay1324 says:

    At this point with three or four Jays catchers a level below where they should be playing I can’t see why Buck should be holding these guys back much longer.

    The Jays are falling out of the race, Buck is only signed for one year and is thirty. I’d think they need to move him somewhere in the next couple weeks and slide everyone up a level, especially Jimenez and Jeroloman.

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  20. NEPP says:

    Defensively, as a catcher, Montero makes a hell of a DH.

    That should be factored in.

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  21. Rex Manning Day says:

    Ultimately, comparing Montero to Arencibia doesn’t work, because Montero isn’t going to remain a catcher. So any comparison of the two is going to invariably break down into a debate about positional adjustments and whether a competent-hitting defensive catcher is worth more than a monster DH.

    Maybe if Romine weren’t right behind him, NY would have more motivation to keep Montero in the minors long enough to learn the position. But as it is, there’s no reason to keep his bat out of the Majors longer than necessary. He’s not going to become a DH just because his defense is bad–he’s going to become a DH because his offense is so good, it’s not worth it to give him time to develop his defense.

    Whether that makes him more valuable than Arencibia is, ultimately, an argument about positional adjustments. Montero has an undeniably better bat than Arencibia; Arencibia has an undeniably better glove. One’s a catcher, the other’s probably a DH. Beyond that, any comparative value debate simply stops being a comparison of two individuals.

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  22. Brendan says:

    Keep in mind Arencibia had a lot of injury problems last year, including a sight problem. Take last years numbers with a grain of salt…

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  23. leonor says:

    santiago nessy es un pelotero de un talento y unas habilidades unicas que con la adquisicion de una madurez propia de la edad ira alcanzando metas inimaginables confio en el y asi sera solo espera y lo veras

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    • ddriver80 says:

      Translation for those who were wondering.

      santiago Nessy is a player of some talent and unique skills with the acquisition of a mature age own anger reaching unimaginable goals so I trust him and will just wait and see

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  24. tom says:

    austin romine is a good catcher but does not have monteroes power but i think austin romine is a better catcher and hitter

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  25. tom says:

    do you people think austin romine will be a good catcher in the major leagues

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  26. tom says:

    is jorge posada still a good catcher

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  27. tom says:

    do you people think david phelps a good pitcher and will he be a major leagur

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