Rising Star: JR Murphy
Once upon a time, when the Yankees farm was ripe with catching prospects headed by The Chosen One™ and followed by the likes of Austin Romine, JR Murphy and Gary Sanchez. We won’t speak of the first…it’s a touchy subject. Austin got the call this year after yet another injury bit the team and through limited playing time is making it pretty obvious he wasn’t ready. It’s been ugly for sure. Sanchez is mashing away for Tampa and could very well make his way north to Trenton this year.
This leaves JR Murphy, who just two years ago was spending time at the hot corner. He was in Charleston with Sanchez in 2011 so it allowed him to get more AB’s in while splitting time behind the dish with the 18 year old prospect. He moved on later that year to get a taste of Tampa and started back with the Yankees in 2012 and again advanced a level after the halfway point of the season. Aside from rookie ball and his second year in Charleston his numbers had always been merely average; the bat would play for the position but at the time there was still a question as to whether or not he would be a future catcher. Despite the numbers I read great things about his swing, and this may have been a case of the numbers don’t represent the talent. He finished 2012 with an OPS barely above .700, and while the bump to AA to play his final 43 games did see a slight downtick, his .257/.322/.374/.696 slash in Tampa before the promotion wasn’t pretty. It was during this time the club was confident that he could stick at catcher but it would require the bulk of his focus which took away from putting time in with his hitting, so maybe an allowance can be made for his more pedestrian numbers. The move has paid off for the Yankees, as JR has developed into an excellent backstop.
Fast forward to 2013. Murphy begins the year in Trenton and was putting up pretty respectable numbers. He posted a .773 OPS and clubbed six homers in just 183 AB’s. Considering his previous season high was seven in nearly twice as many AB’s that’s a nice uptick. It also put him in twenty home run territory playing in a spacious park. The Yankees must have liked what they saw, as after just 49 games he was bumped to AAA, a step away from the show. I don’t think they’d rush him in the hopes that he’d be in line for a call to the BX, they have and would pick up another castaway to fill a spot in Scranton. Again the numbers weren’t amazing but he got their attention and responded to the promotion with aplomb. First…he’s only logged 17 games, so the sample size thing needs to be taken into consideration. After 64 AB’s JR has bit .297/.392/.516/.908 including 5 doubles, 3 HR’s and 9 walks vs. 11 strikeouts. Now I don’t expect this to continue as pitchers get the digs on him, but it is exciting to see.
A quick scouting report on Murphy: Possibly a victim of the babip flu, his low averages in 2012 didn’t do him justice. JR is a line drive hitter with average power, but as we’ve seen that may be on it’s way up a bit. He has great plate discipline and has a tendency to drive more balls up the middle and to the opposite field using a short quick swing. Not a speedster, but he fares well going station to station and could nab a few bags here and there. Defensively there is nothing that he does amazingly, but he does everything well; receiving, blocking, throwing, he does it all at an above average level. He’s also known to be very good with his pitching staff as a strong leader type. Overall he’s just a solid player all the way around. His hitting, power and defense all grade out very well. He isn’t in superstar territory for sure, but very solid.
Moving forward what to expect? Well he’s not going to keep up this pace in AAA for sure. Pitchers will adjust, and then he’ll have to figure it out all over again. Even so, it’s great to see him get off to a hot start at a new level and maybe, just maybe have a more viable solution to the catcher question as we head into 2014. My take is while we may end up with someone even better at the position he can be a much better answer than Chris Stewart. Best case scenario is he ends up caddying for Gary in 2016 but that’s a galaxy away…