Last Updated on October 17, 2023 at 11:33 am by Sara Molnick
The Yankees are bracing for a rebuilding and catcher Kyle Higashioka is among the players bracing for an exit. He has consistently demonstrated reliability and a strong rapport with the pitching staff. With an uptick in playing time, he delivered impressive performances, setting new career benchmarks over the past two seasons. Furthermore, when Jose Trevino was sidelined due to injury, Kyle Higashioka emerged as a stabilizing presence for the Yankees, particularly when the team introduced younger catchers into the organization.
However, as the Yankees promoted Ben Rortvedt and, eventually, their highly-touted catching prospect, Austin Wells, Kyle Higashioka experienced a reduction in his playing time during the last month of the season. His potential farewell game with the team took place on October 1, where the 33-year-old catcher went 1-for-4 with a double.
The reason behind Yankees letting Kyle Higashioka go
Kyle Higashioka’s tenure with the New York Yankees began back in 2017. Following a five-season stint as the backup to Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka was granted the opportunity to step into the role of the Yankees’ starting catcher in 2022. Despite an impressive performance during spring training, his success did not carry over into the regular season, as he encountered offensive challenges. As a result, the Yankees acquired Jose Trevino during the previous offseason, who ultimately supplanted Higashioka as the team’s everyday catcher.
In the brief span of just two seasons with the Yankees, Trevino has proven himself to be a superior performer both defensively and at the plate when compared to Kyle Higashioka. Notably, Trevino achieved All-Star recognition in 2022 and also secured a Gold Glove award—two distinctions that have eluded Higgy thus far.
Presently, the organization holds the belief that Trevino should be fully prepared for spring training, following his surgery to mend a torn ligament in his wrist. As a result, it appears highly probable that the Yankees will include him on the Opening Day roster.
Even though Rortvedt was involved in the Josh Donaldson trade, he has yet to establish a prominent presence within the organization, apart from his role as Gerrit Cole‘s preferred catcher, a position previously held by Trevino before his injury. Consequently, Rortvedt doesn’t appear to be a strong candidate for the backup role, which brings us to Wells.
At the age of 24, Wells garnered praise for his MLB-ready batting skills, and this potential began to manifest in the closing stages of the season. Over 19 games, Wells impressively recorded four home runs, with three of them coming in the last five games, while also contributing 13 RBIs. This output nearly equaled half of the home runs achieved by Higgy in his 92 games played during the 2023 season.
In the absence of consistent offensive contributions, the choice of forming a combination of Trevino and Wells for the 2024 season seems like a straightforward way to maximize offensive output from the catching position.
Can he be a backup?
Kyle Higashioka has a chance to return only if Trevino’s recovery from his wrist surgery is not complete. Given the predominantly experienced pitching staff, New York is in need of an experienced and seasoned catcher for their roster. Another advantageous factor is Kyle Higashioka’s seven-year tenure within the organization, which means he’s well-acquainted with the majority, if not all, of the pitchers on the roster. In this particular situation, Kyle Higashioka would serve as the backup to Wells.
Higashioka can assume the role of a mentor for Wells, affording the young catcher some much-needed rest on occasion. This strategy not only offers the Yankees additional offensive potential but also addresses the void in power hitting that they’ve been lacking since Sanchez’s departure.
Furthermore, in the event that Cole doesn’t establish a strong rapport with Wells, having Kyle Higashioka available as an option to catch for him is imperative. Given the precision and specificity that the Yankees’ ace demands, the team is unlikely to want any major disruptions, and Kyle Higashioka could serve as a reliable and reassuring presence in that regard.
However, Kyle Higashioka, despite being a valued presence in the clubhouse and a beloved member of the organization, has not delivered the offensive performance necessary to secure a spot on the team. The 2024 Yankees plan clearly points toward maximizing their utilization of Wells to thoroughly assess the potential of a potent bat in the catcher’s position.
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