With the injury to Gary Sanchez requiring DL time, the New York Yankees will call upon Kyle Higashioka to keep his roster spot warm.
It’s not the way the New York Yankees wanted 26-year-old Kyle Higashioka to earn a major league call-up, but after the injury to catcher Gary Sanchez, the long-time Yankee farmhand will make the trip to Baltimore on Sunday.
Higashioka has been in with the organization since 2008 and just last season furthered his game to the point that his ability to succeed in the majors seems realistic — despite Tommy John surgery and a thumb injury hindering his development.
He earned his spot on the 40-man roster prior to the Rule-5 Draft in 2016 following a regular season in which he slashed .276/.337/.511 with 21 home runs in 102 games between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. In the Electric City, he hit 10 homers in 160 plate appearances — a 31 homer pace when proportioned to 500 PA.
Behind the plate, he’s no scrub. In fact, he’s quite notorious for packing a stellar arm. Higashioka’s 30.2 minor league caught stealing percentage isn’t much far behind the freakish cannon of Gary Sanchez (34.9 rate as a minor leaguer) and is much better than Austin Romine’s major league rate (21.7 percent).
Higashioka came to camp as an unlikely option for the backup catcher role, as Romine is out of options, but that didn’t stop the Huntington Beach-native from putting some pressure on.
In 20 spring training games, he slashed .296/.406/.630 with two home runs and an OPS of 1.036 while also catching three of the five baserunners that attempted to steal off him.
Looking at the big picture, though, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll earn the chances to remain on the 25-man roster when Sanchez returns from the 10-day DL.
Romine, who slashed .242/.269/.382 and only made one error in 355.1 total innings behind the plate while backing up Sanchez and Brian McCann last season, will get most of the reps behind the dish but Higashioka should get an opportunity to make a positive first impression in the show.
He already forced the Yankee brass to take notice down in Tampa following his superb performance in 2016, and if he can proceed to blend adequate defense with the power he showcased last year, then Higashioka could obtain the position of Yankees’ backup catcher at some point in the near future.
It’s certainly not the way the organization nor fans would have liked to see this kid make his major league debut, but the silver lining could be a solid start to his big league career and a swift recovery by Gary Sanchez.