Tonight when Gerrit Cole takes the mound for the New York Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles, all eyes will be on who will be catching him. Earlier in the spring, manager Aaron Boone said that Kyle Higashioka would no longer be Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher.
The controversy arose when it was determined that Cole pitched better when paired with Higashioka behind the plate. Last season when pitching to Gary Sanchez, Cole had an ERA of 3.91, but when pitching to Higashioka, his ERA was 1.00 in his last four starts of the regular season. Higashioka also caught Cole’s 3 post-season starts with an ERA of 2.95. These stats are why Yankee fans were shocked when Boone said that would no longer be the case.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Gerrit Cole has never said anything negative regarding being caught by Gary Sanchez; however, he has expressed his comfort with the relationship he has developed with Kyle Higashioka.
Fast forward to this year. Cole was one of the Yankee starters that struggled the most in spring training, all but one caught by Gary Sanchez. He also gave up 5 home runs in just 18 innings. Five days ago, on opening day, Sanchez caught Cole in a no-decision game. He gave up 2 earned runs, one of them a homer. With Sanchez catching in four straight games, it would seem logical that he would get the day off, and Higashioka would catch. Tonight we will find out. Let’s take a look at Higashioka’s career.
Higashioka (he-GAH-shi-OH-Kah) is a fourth-generation Japanese American born on April 20, 1990, in Huntington Beach, California. He attended high school there and played for its baseball team. He has always preferred the backstop position when playing. After high school, he committed to the University of California to play for the California Golden Bears. Instead, he signed with the Yankees when they drafted him in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB draft. He is the longest-tenured Yankee with Brett Gardner. Higashioka is multi-lingual.
His time in the minor leagues
He played for the Tampa Yankees A-Advanced team in the Florida State League and the Trenton Thunder AA club in the minors. During 2013 and 2014, he played in only 13 games due to an injured thumb and the need for Tommy John surgery. He played for the Tampa team again in 2015. After the season, he, as a free agent, again signed with the Yankees and started the 2016 season with the Trenton Thunder and won a player of the week award. He was then promoted to the Scranton Wilkes/Barre Rail Riders. He finished the season .276 with 21 home runs and 81 RBI’s, and he was added to the New York Yankee’s 40 man roster, only to be optioned to the Rail Riders again at the beginning of the 2017 season. Due to an injury to Gary Sanchez, he was called up and made his major league debut on April 10 when he went 0-18 and was again sent back to the Rail Riders upon Sanchez’s return.
Kyle makes his major league debut
He in July suffered a knee injury and only played eight games in August and September. He started the 2018 season at the Rail Riders but was called up in June due to another Sanchez injury. On July 1, he hit his first major league home run against the Boston Red Sox’s David Price. His next two hits were also home runs, making him the 1st player to hit three home runs as his first hits in the majors since 1920.
During the rest of 2018 and in 2019 New York Yankees seasons , Higashioka was called up several times due to Sanchez’s injuries. When called up, he usually alternated with Austin Romine caring for the backstop’s duties and is an integral part of the organization. Kyle is not the best hitter, but when he does, it’s often for power (23 HR was between the Rail Riders and the Yankees last season). He calls a great game and is an excellent defender. He is the longest-tenured Yankee minor leaguer, having been with them eleven years before this season.
Competing to be the full-time backup catcher
After long-time catcher Austin Romine left for the Tigers last year in the shortened spring training, he played in 12 games and made 31 plate appearances. He hit a team-leading three home runs in those appearances and drove in four while providing excellent backstop defense. He competed to be the backup catcher for Gary Sanchez with Chris Iannetta and Erik Kratz. With his spring training performance, he has nearly assured himself of the backup job and a dream realized. As it turned out late in the season, he became ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher with amazing results. He has solidified his position as the Yankee’s backup catcher.
Kyle is married to his wife, Alyse. They were married in November of 2016 in Maui. They reportedly have no children as of yet and live in southern California in the off-season. There are no know scandals involving Kyle. Although of Japanese heritage, Kyle could not speak Japanese, so he learned it to be able to better communicate with the likes of Masahiro Tanaka. Being the studious type, he also learned Spanish to better speak with the Latino Yankee Players.
He earned the nickname “Higgy” from his fellow Rail Riders and New York Yankee players and is very well-liked and respected by the other players. He has taken classes in mechanical engineering at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California in the off-season.