2021 is a crucial year for the New York Yankees‘ catchers core. The organization remains loyal to Gary Sanchez, but coming off a dismal 2020 season, he needs to prove himself again.
Still, he has competition with Kyle Higashioka set to back him up a year after starting more postseason games than Sanchez. The Robinson Chirinos signing gives the Yankees another proven, veteran catcher ready at Triple-A.
Then there are three wide-eyed kids in camp who are simply hoping to learn and leave a good impression.
Anthony Seigler, Josh Breaux, and Austin Wells are in Major League camp for the first time. The young catchers were all drafted in either 2018 and 2020 – Seigler and Wells were first-round picks those years – and they are excited to get the opportunity after a lost year of development.
“Last year, it was tough on us but we always gotta bounce back from it,” Seigler said on a Sunday Zoom call as all three men were introduced to the media. “We didn’t like it, but we’re here now.”
They got there partly because of a surplus of pitchers receiving Spring Training invites, but the organization is high on them, nonetheless. All three men are ranked within the Yankees top-20 prospects, according to MLB.com.
Staying In Shape
Even without a MiLB season in 2020, MLB.com projects Seigler and Beaux to be MLB ready by 2022 and Wells by 2023. The young trio did not let the disappointment of no season prevent them from bettering themselves to the best of their abilities. Breaux was able to face live pitching during some individual workouts at home in Texas during the summer. In 2019, he saw an uptick in power after he stopped expanding the strike zone, resulting in a .518 slugging percentage in 51 games. The live pitching helped keep that momentum going, even if he could not get into real games.
Seigler and Wells praised the Yankees’ player development staff for their communication in keeping them ready throughout the unprecedented summer. Wells was drafted in June, and he has yet to play in one professional game.
“The best approach that I’ve learned is taking it day-by-day,” Wells said. “…just taking the opportunities that come to me and just really taking advantage of those.”
Wells has been doing just that, and he received praise from manager Aaron Boone about his hitting abilities. Additionally, he has been working on his defensive mechanics as well as on framing pitches.
Staying on the Field for Seigler
Seigler isn’t making headlines like Wells, offensively, but he is excited for a lot of at bats in the coming weeks. His face lit up when hitting was mentioned on the Zoom call. He spoke to following a routine and his desire to get on the field more. This is especially important to him since a knee injury hindered his development in 2019 before the pandemic took away his 2020 season. Being on the field as much as possible is his top priority.
None of these three have played above A-Ball. Now they have an opportunity to face and catch some of the best pitchers in MLB. Neither has any specific name on their mind to face, but they are all ready for the opportunity.
For these Yankees catchers, it is more about overcoming the nerves than being intimidated. Their teammates know that nerves are expected, so they are making this group feel welcomed immediately.
“All these guys have done their best to just treat me like a normal guy,” Breaux said. “And that calms my nerves immediately and at the end of the day, it’s just baseball and makes it so much easier.”
Wells has also noticed players making efforts to make him feel welcome. What stands out most to him is the attitude among the older players. It is clear that they want to win just as bad as he does.
“It’s been really cool to be around that environment and that clubhouse atmosphere that we’re here to win and we’re here to do a job,” Wells said.
For Seigler, it is about following the example the older players set. In his mind, the urgency with which they do everything stands out the most. He understands the purpose in their actions, and he knows that nothing can be done nonchalantly.
These three are not going to make the 2021 Opening Day roster. Still, the Yankees are putting their future catchers in a situation to succeed with the experiences will get over the next six weeks.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images