As spring training initiated, New York Yankees catcher Austin Romine’s days in the Bronx appeared to be near the end.
After being drafted out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California with a one million dollar signing bonus in the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft, the catcher spent six years in the Yankees’ minor league system before getting his first taste of the show in 2013.
He playing in 60 games where he slashed .207/.255/.296 and threw out 21% of the runners attempting to steal on him. After a brief cup of coffee in the majors in 2014, he was released on the closing day of spring training in 2015 in favor John Ryan Murphy.
Not only was he cut, but after clearing waivers and being offered to all other teams in baseball, he descended back with the Yankees after no other team desired to have him on their roster. Just like that, he went from being one of the most appealing catching prospects in baseball to a busted youngster with his window turning into a peephole.
After returning to the organization that drafted him nine years ago, he was poised to take a roster spot with no options and the odds ever so against him.
By the time spring training began this season, the 27-year-old seemed to be a long-shot to make the roster thanks to the Yankees’ rising star and apparent heir to the starting catching thrown, Gary Sanchez.
Sanchez’s .274/.330/.485 slash line with 18 home runs and 62 RBI Triple-A the year was thought to help the team that ranked seventh-to-last in the American League in terms of batting average against lefties.
To make it even more troublesome for Romine to make the opening day roster as Brian McCann’s back-up, the Yankees inked Carlos Corporan to create even more competition for him.
So, entering spring training, Romine was recognized to be the second and conceivably even the third alternative for the backup catcher behind Sanchez but thanks to a solid array of offense with slumps by the young catcher and Corporan, Romine secured the backup catcher’s role.
Sanchez looked like a lost puppy while down in Tampa and his .059/.238/.059 slash line in 17 games proved that to be true and while Romine wasn’t significantly smashing the ball (.289, one home run, eight RBI) he was chosen to catch a pitching staff he worked well with.
Let it also be said he’d provide a righty bat (Corporan was a lefty, batted .167 in 16 spring training games) to a lineup in dire need of a righty bat to complement McCann’s lefty bat when they face off against southpaws.
“I thought he played very well defensively. I thought he swung the bat pretty good as well,” said manager Joe Girardi. “What I saw from Ro from this year to last year spring training is he didn’t press this year. I thought he came in much more relaxed and I think going through what he did last year, fighting for a job, probably helped him.”
So, Romine flourished during his last shot with his team and now the New York Yankees are witnessing the benefits of the former Top-100 prospect.
When I mentioned that he works well with the pitching staff, I wasn’t pulling your leg.
In games in which Nathan Eovaldi takes the hill, his ERA is at 4.25 when McCann is behind the dish and drops to 3.96 whenever Romine is there to receive his pitches. Michael Pineda’s ERA drops from 6.80 to 5.28 when the Yankees’ backup catcher catches him and the opposition’s OPS against him also drops from .942 to .894.
In Masahiro Tanaka’s lone start with Romine catching him, he surrendered only one run on five hits while striking out four. CC Sabathia is also fond of his backup catcher as his strikeout to walk ratio stands at 4.50 with “Ro” compared to 2.21 with McCann starting.
Not only does he call a good game, but he has also been a delightful threat in the batter’s box which goes against popular belief of second-string catchers being defensively focused.
On the season, he owns a slashline of .292/.309/.462 with an OPS of .770 in 25 games played and in his last seven games, he is hitting .333 with two home runs and six RBI showing us that he is in no way, shape, or from a sure out. Now that Gary Sanchez is missing time due to a broken thumb, he appears to be here to stay as the 2016 season progresses.
The big picture is, Romine went from a dismissed and busted prospect into a formidable backup that could potentially assist his team as they attempt to climb back into relevancy. From a reserve player, that’s more than you can possibly ask for.