Austin Romine: Is He The New York Yankees Future Behind The Plate?

With The Trenton Thunder’s 8-1 win Friday night in New Hampshire, the Yankees Double A affiliate advanced to the Eastern League finals for the third time in the last four seasons.

With absolutely stunning pitching, the Thunder’s starters and relievers held the Fisher Cats to ONE run in 30 innings over the three games.

Some of that credit has to go to the catcher for all three of those games, 21-year-old Austin Romine. During the series, Romine caught a potential future ace in Dellin Betances, a potential Hall of Famer in Andy Pettitte and up and coming Johan Santana clone (but with a better curve ball) in Manuel Banuelos.

Banuelos threw seven innings of shutout ball last night for his first win this season. ManBan will be a really good major league pitcher.   

The Yankees love Romine, and the Yankees are loaded with catching prospects. They have 20-year-old Jesus Montero in Triple A Scranton, Romine in Trenton, 19-year-old J.R. Murphy in Low A Charleston and rifle armed 17-year-old Gary Sanchez, who just finished up in short season Staten Island.

Many in the media, both New York and National media plus the prospect circuit and about a gazillion bloggers believe Romine will be the catching future in the Bronx.

I am sorry to let you down, but I don’t see it happening.

He may get some time as a major league catcher, but for him to have a long and distinguished career in New York, Romine will have to improve many aspects of his game…on both sides of the ball.

I was at the two home games in the Eastern League playoff semi’s, but have seen about 15 Trenton games this year, many with Romine behind the plate.

I checked my notes from the playoff games to those in the early and middle part of the season, and many of them are similar.

Behind the plate, Romine calls a very good game and works well with all the Trenton pitchers. I spoke with Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Lance Pendleton and D.J. Mitchell, the latter two before they were promoted to Triple A Scranton. 

All said they love to throw to Romine and how good he is behind the plate. But to be fair here, ALL Yankee pitchers love to work with ALL their systems catchers.  Even Andy Pettitte at his press conference last week after his rehab start said Romine was “great to throw to.”

But delving deeper, Warren, who threw mostly fastballs and a few sliders in relief of Pettitte, said that Romine was aware of how much pop his fastball had. He kept calling for it, not calling for Warren’s curve ball or change much at all.

But Romine does not have good hands behind the plate. He regularly lets 2 to 3 pitches (or more!) go off his glove per game. They may occur with the bases empty so they are not passed balls, but there is no denying Romine needs to work on his receiving skills. It seems like he has trouble with velocity and/or serious ball movement.

In several recent games, I mentioned this fact to several veteran baseball guys in the stands, who after the game acknowledged that Romine has a problem.

Many people think Romine is just plain tired, but these mishaps occurred early in the season, too, so I do not buy that excuse.  I believe he oftentimes lacks concentration behind the plate. However, to be fair, Romine is in the first full season catching as he usually split time the last two years with Jesus Montero in Low A Charleston in 2008 and for much of the 2009 season in High A Tampa.

His throwing arm appeared good one night, but very weak and off target other nights. His footwork is inconsistent with each throw and even during between innings throws he is sometimes off balanced.

But while he glove work needs help, his hitting may need more. He looked slow against Kyle Drabek* the other night. Not that anyone else in the Trenton lineup was hitting him well (Daniel Brewer did hit a 4th inning line drive RBI single), but Romine was consistently behind Drabek’s good fastball.

And he never had a chance at Drabek’s breaking stuff.

*Drabek has been rewarded with his Eastern League Pitcher of the Year performance with his first major league start, scheduled for Wednesday. This is a reward and also to keep Drabek’s innings mounting so he will be on pace for 200+ next season as a full-time starter in the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. No way they let Drabek pitch for Triple A Las Vegas, and put him in that environment

That was the second time recently I saw Romine face Drabek. He was not much better the first time around. Lots of flailing swings and quite a few weakly hit ground balls.

In fact, there are very few times Romine catches up with a good fastball, and most of the times I see him hit the ball well on the fastball are when he goes the other way with an outside pitch, like he did with his one hit off Drabek the other night.

And it appears he knows he can’t catch up with the fastball because he pulls off the ball very quickly looking for the inside pitch. When he does that, there is no way he hits a good breaking ball.

I can’t believe that the Yankees are sending him to the Arizona Fall League (again!) after his first full season as a catcher. While most teams out there stock three of four catchers, he might only catch one game a week. But last year, Romine only had 15 at bats out there, so he might just make an appearance or two.

The Yankees system is stacked in the catching department, and it does not seem out of the question that one of the younger kids like Murphy or Sanchez (who can hit for big time power and has a tremendous throwing arm) could overtake Romine in the pecking order.

Romine is consistent as he had exactly 122 hits each of his first three professional seasons. But his plate appearance and at bats have increased each year and his batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentages are all lower than they were in 2008.

Austin Romine is very likable. He is a good kid, always ready to talk to the media and he keeps the young fans happy with autographs and a free game ball or two.

But as the catching future for the New York Yankees…it likely will not happen.

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