The New York Yankees have rebuilt their farm system, making them an intriguing team to watch during spring training. Fans have flocked to George Steinbrenner Field and to their televisions to catch a glimpse of Gary Sanchez, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier, but have overlooked one Kyle Higashioka. The catcher was selected in the 7th round (No. 230 overall) by the Yankees in the 2008 MLB draft out of Edison HS in Huntington Beach, CA. That means that Higashioka, already 26-years-old, isn’t all that valuable.
Despite his age, you might want to start learning Higashioka’s name. He is an excellent defender behind the plate and, in 2016, his bat finally developed into a formidable threat. Higashioka started 2017 in Double-A Trenton before earning a promotion to Triple-A Scranton. He showed off his strong arm across both levels, throwing out 128 of 292 potential base stealers – good for a 30% caught stealing rate. He’s also a capable pitch-framer, saving 18.5 runs last season, according to Brooks Baseball. His defense alone could eventually earn him a spot on a major-league roster.
Up until 2016, it appeared that Higahshioka was classic defensive catcher, who was competent enough at the plate. Heading into last season, Higashioka had mustered just 30 career home run over his first eight minor-league seasons, with a single-season high of eight home runs back in 2011 at Single-A Charleston and High-A Tampa. His 2016 campaign was a completely different story, managing to power 21 home runs in 426 plate-appearances across Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton. He finished the season with a very respectable .276/.337/.511 slash-line, garnering some attention from Yankees’ management.
After his productive season, the Yankees added Higashioka to their 40-man roster to protect him from being selected by another organization in the rule-5 draft. Now, with an invite to Tampa, Higashioka is aiming to prove himself. He has made the most of his modest opportunity, starting the spring 4 for 7 with a solo homer and a 2:0 walk-to-strikeout ratio in five appearances.
With Higashioka behind both Sanchez and Austin Romine on the depth chart, it’s going to be difficult to find a spot for him in bigs, but with a strong start to the season he could force the Yankees’ hand. With Sanchez likely manning the backstop for many years to come, perhaps the Yankees can capitalize on Higashioka’s success by utilizing him as a trade chip. Whatever they elect to do, Higashioka has re-established himself as a legitimate prospect, adding to the Yankees’ already-deep farm system.