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Catchers: Sánchez seeks rebound, Higashioka’s second look, prospects, and more [2021 Season Preview]

With spring training now in full swing and a new season upon us, it’s time to bring back our season preview series. This year, we’re doing things a little bit differently. Instead of writing up each and every individual player, we’re doing top-to-bottom organizational previews by position. Not only will this provide a set up for the 2021 MLB season’s storylines, but it’ll also give us a look at what’s in store with the minor leagues returning this summer. Lastly, at the bottom of each post, we will have a depth chart by playing level.

Today, we start at catcher. A fitting place to begin given that catchers have been in camp for a few days already now. Let’s dive in.

Pressure on Gary Sánchez

Gary Sánchez, much to many fans’ chagrin, is the incumbent starting catcher. We’ve gotten a reprieve from the Sánchez discourse for the past few months, but things have kicked back into gear now that spring training has begun. And understandably so given how 2020 ended for the 28 year-old backstop.

2021 feels like a make-or-break season for Sánchez. He’s two years from free agency and has been on a roller coaster since 2018. A hot start would do wonders, wouldn’t it? Sure, there’s always a magnifying glass on his performance, but never quite like this. After all, last year was pretty embarrassing for Sánchez. He didn’t hit during the regular season (.147/.253/.365, 68 wRC+) and was a mess defensively. By season’s end, he was no longer paired with team ace Gerrit Cole and started just two of the team’s seven postseason games. So yeah, a torrid start to 2021 would go a long way for Gary.

Rule 5 Draft Recap: Yankees lose Garrett Whitlock, Kyle Holder, and Trevor Stephan

Don’t get too excited.

As expected, the Yankees lost a few prospects in today’s Rule 5 draft. Garrett Whitlock, Kyle Holder, and Trevor Stephan will start 2021 in new organizations, though there’s still the possibility that they will return to the Yankees before season’s end.

Boston, badly in need of any sort of pitching, took righty Garrett Whitlock with the 4th overall selection. Whitlock had Tommy John surgery mid-2019 but should be a full go come spring training. Perhaps he cracks a spot in the Red Sox rotation. The former 18th round pick in 2017 made 14 Double-A starts in 2019 and posted a 3.07 ERA and 3.14 FIP.

The Phillies grabbed shortstop Kyle Holder, the Yanks’ first round pick in 2016. Holder spent time at the Alternate Site this summer and now possibly could replace Didi Gregorius as the Phillies’ shortstop. He’s best known for his defensive chops at short.

Lastly, Cleveland selected righty Trevor Stephan. He was the Yanks’ third round selection in the 2017 amateur draft. Somewhat surprisingly, he wasn’t at the Alternate Site this summer as he seems prime for a big league relief gig soon. Granted, 2019 was a bit of a roller coaster for him. The year included a demotion from Double-A to High-A, but he did look better and returned to Trenton by the end of that season.

These three aren’t lost for good, so you know. They must stick in the big leagues for the entirety of the 2021 season, so all three could be back in the Yankees’ organization before too long.

The Yankees will also lose a few players in the minor league phase this afternoon. That said, the minor leaguers taken during this phase rarely are notable prospects. I’ll update this post if there are any surprises.

Meanwhile, because the Yankees have an open 40-man roster spot, the team could have made selection in today’s draft. But to no surprise, the organization passed. The Yanks haven’t made a pick in the Major League phase since 2011 (RHP Brad Meyers, Nationals).

Yankees add Oswald Peraza, Alexander Vizcaíno, Roansy Contreras, and Yoendrys Gomez to 40-man roster

It’s not much, but there’s finally some transaction news to pass along this offseason. The Yankees added Oswald Peraza, Alexander Vizcaíno, Roansy Contreras, and Yoendrys Gomez to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from being eligible for next month’s Rule 5 draft. Brief snippets on those four can be found in our Rule 5 protection preview. The Yankees’ 40-man roster is now full.

Notably not protected: Addison Russ and Trevor Stephan. Relief profiles like those two tend to get picked in the Rule 5, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see either of them chosen.

Lastly, here’s how you all voted on who the team should protect:

Yankees’ 2020 Rule 5 Draft Protection Preview

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Friday is the deadline for teams to add minor leaguers to the 40-man roster in order to protect them from the Rule 5 draft (for other key offseason dates, be sure to check out our offseason calendar). As of this writing, the Yankees have four open slots available. They could open up another spot or two via trade in the coming days, but at the same time, the organization may not feel the need to protect more than four players.

For a full list of draft eligible minor leaguers, head over to Pinstriped Prospects. I’ll briefly profile a few of the notable players the Yankees have to consider protecting.

Top prospects

Oswald Peraza | SS | 20 y/o | Single-A | 4th-best team prospect per MLB Pipeline

Peraza’s minor league numbers don’t jump off the page, but he has a good contact-oriented approach, plenty of speed, and is projected to stick at shortstop. It’s hard to imagine him sticking in the majors next year, but his prospect status makes it risky to expose him. I wonder if the Yankees are still scarred from losing catcher Luis Torrens, who was at the same level and age when the Padres drafted and stashed him.

Alexander Vizcaino | RHP | 23 y/o | High-A | 8th | 2020 Player Pool

Vizcaino was an older J2 signing in 2016 but has impressed in the minors. He can touch triple-digits with his fastball and has a plus changeup to boot. Clearly, the Yankees like the righty quite a bit because he spent this summer in Scranton. Even though he’s pitched exclusively as a starter over the past couple of minor league seasons, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him hold his own in a big league bullpen next season. I expect the Yankees to add him the 40-man this week.

News & Notes: LeMahieu rejects QO, Yanks interested in Simmons, and MiLB affiliate news

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The hot stove season is underway, sort of. Things are pretty quiet on the rumor mill and only a couple of notable transactions have occurred. Robbie Ray re-signed with Toronto earlier this week and Marcus Stroman accepted the qualifying offer to remain with the Mets. The Yankees have some qualifying offer news too, which leads us right into today’s notes.

DJ LeMahieu will reject qualifying offer

This isn’t a surprise. Today’s the decision deadline for players who received the qualifying and LeMahieu will not accept. If my understanding of the qualifying offer rules are correct, the Yankees are now eligible to receive a compensation pick after the fourth round of next year’s amateur draft should LeMahieu sign elsewhere.

The median contract value per FanGraphs’ crowdsourcing for LeMahieu is $42 million of three years, which is an absolute bargain. The average was a bit higher at 3.45 years and $62.1 million ($18 million AAV), but still very reasonable for the second baseman. I’d be very happy if the Yankees could bring him back at either of those prices, although their sights could be elsewhere. Hell, we let him walk in our plan released yesterday.

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