It seems like for well over a decade the New York Yankees have developed starting caliber catchers through their minor league system like they were a backstop factory. Starting with Jorge Posada, the hype has been built up around guys like Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli, John Ryan Murphy, and, of course, Gary Sanchez.
The catching depth has been so deep that the San Diego Padres took a Single-A catcher, Luis Torrens, from the Yankees and kept him on their major league roster all season just to keep him. One guy put himself on the map within the organization, and that player is Kyle Higashioka.
Higashioka was drafted by the Yankees in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB draft and is from Huntington, California. It was in 2016 that Higashioka finally broke out at the plate. He completed the year with a .276 batting average while hitting 21 Home runs and driving in 81 RBIs.
He made his Major League debut on April 10, 2017 at Yankee Stadium as a defensive replacement. After he was sent back down he had an up and down year with injuries. However, Higashioka is poised to rebound in the 2018 season.
I recently spoke with Higashioka on the phone to catch up with him on his offseason progress so far.
You had mentioned earlier you were working out at the stadium, are you in Scranton?
“No, I’m currently in Tampa working out.”
Do the Yankees have you there working out just in case they need you?
How do you prepare for the event you may get the call up unexpectedly?
“You prepare the same way as you would the regular season. We have (the instructional league) down here so I am able to get some live at bats in. I take everything just as seriously right now and I’m just prepared for anything.”
How does it feel to see a lot of the guys you’ve played with doing so well in the playoffs right now?
“It’s great. There are a lot of guys in the lineup that I played with in the past. Guys like Bird, Judge, Gary (Sanchez), they’re all great. Hopefully they’ll win the World Series.”
Is there anything about the guys on this team you know of that maybe most people don’t?
“There is a lot of media attention on the Yankees so I doubt there is much people don’t know about them. We’re just always trying to win and these guys just love to have fun.”
You came into 2017 off of a career year and had some ups and downs. Can you reflect on your past season?
“The year started with the best possible scenario with being called up. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit as well in New York as I know I could have. I was doing alright at the plate (in the minors) but I really just couldn’t stay on the field. This off season I’m really just going to be working towards staying healthy for the upcoming season.”
Being called up was obviously the most exciting part of your past season, what was that like?
“It was amazing. I got to play in the last game of the regular season and it was a packed house. I’ve never played in front of that many fans before. It was just a crazy feeling and I was nervous. My first start in the big leagues was catching (Jordan Montgomery) which eased both of our nerves because we knew each other.”
Going in to the off season are you focusing on a specific part of your game?
“I’m always working on every aspect of my game. I’m putting a lot of focus in improving my throwing and I’ve done a lot of good work in instructs. I feel ten times better. As for hitting I’m just trying to get back on the path from 2016.”
Speaking of 2016, what do you feel changed for you in that breakout year? What Clicked?
“At the plate I felt much better. I was playing at a higher level and when you’re at a higher level it’s more of a mental game there. I had a lot more knowledge of the pitchers so that really benefited me. I also was trying to keep the ball off the ground more which resulted in a higher average and more power.”
When you say trying to keep the ball off the ground, were you changing your launch angle?
“I’m actually not very big into launch angel. I feel like you need to adjust your swing to match the plane of the pitch coming in. You’re always facing different pitchers and pitches so you’re always seeing the ball coming in on different planes. So it makes sense to match the incoming pitch with your swing plane.”
The Yankees do a very good job of developing catchers. Why is that and how have you benefited from it?
“Josh Paul is our catching coordinator. He always puts together good drills for us and great video analysis of our movements. Getting those things down allows our instincts to take over.”
You have spent some time in Scranton now, how do you enjoy the area?
“I like it. My grandfather was actually born in Nanticoke, PA which is about twenty minutes away from the stadium. I was able to go and visit the grocery store that his dad used to own. It was a really cool thing to see.”