Is Austin Romine a failed prospect?

What does the future hold for Romine?

Not too long ago, Austin Romine was fairly well regarded by prospect evaluators, ranking in the back end of Baseball America’s top 100 list in both 2010 and 2011. Since then, Romine’s star has dimmed thanks to an injury-riddled 2012 and an uninspiring stint as the Yankees’ backup catcher last season, posting a 47 wRC+ in 60 games. With Brian McCann slated to be the starting catcher for the foreseeable future and Francisco Cervelli returning to the mix, Romine’s become something of an afterthought in the Yankees’ catching plans. It’s not even clear if he would find a ton of playing time in the minors, either with J.R. Murphy and Gary Sanchez slated for triple-A Scranton and double-A Trenton respectively.

Romine’s probably played himself out of the Yankees’ immediate plans, but there still could be some upside in his profile. After all, he was a fairly well regarded prospect as recently as three years ago and is still just 25 years old. Nevertheless, there’s no denying his 2013 campaign was pretty terrible (.207/.255/.296), even if it was a small sample size.

To get a better idea of how the odds stack up for Romine, I compiled a list of players with similar (or worse) rookie seasons — catchers with at least 140 PAs, a BB% more than 30% below league average, a K% more than 20% above league average, and a wRC+ of 60 or below. Here is that list along with their career stats.

Note: Averages exclude Carlos Corporan and Adam Moore since they are still active.

Not the most encouraging group of players — overall, they averaged 2.6 fWAR and a 57 wRC+ over their careers, and nine out of the eleven  never amounted to much more than replacement level status. Included in those nine are Carlos Corporan and Adam Moore who are still active, but have probably passed the point where we can expect any sort of break-out. There are a couple of success stories here though — Brandon Inge and Todd Hundley both developed into decent power hitters and went on to have very solid careers.

Romine’s future as a big-leaguer may not look particularly bright, but not all hope is lost, either. Catchers have a knack for being late bloomers offensively, and at 25 years old, he’s still young enough that he could straighten things out. Guys like Hundley and Inge prove that it’s happened before. Yet for every Hundley, there are probably four or five Sandy Martinez‘s who fade into minor league oblivion.

There’s a chance that Romine develops into a solid catcher someday, but if he does, it probably won’t be with the Yankees. They have have something of a catching surplus on their hands; and while he’s not useless, its a little hard to see where Romine will fit into the equation in 2014. That being said, extra catching depth is always a good thing to have, so by no means do the Yankees need to trade Romine right now. But if the right opportunity comes along — like for some much-needed bullpen help — I’d expect the Bombers to bite.

About Chris

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, and is an occasional user of the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell
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