New York Yankees Report Card: Kyle Higashioka, a dream now realized

New York Yankees, Kyle Higashioka
Feb 25, 2020; Dunedin, Florida, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Luis Cessa (85) talks with catcher Kyle Higashioka (66) on the mound during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at TD Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the New York Yankees 2020 season, Kyle Higashioka knew he would be the backup catcher for Gary Sanchez. He also knew that he would occasionally be catching to give Sanchez a day off or catch for him when he went on the IL. “Higgy” couldn’t count on that as Sanchez remained healthy during the short season. But what did happen, Kyle could not have expected. He became ace Gerrit Cole’s personal catcher that had him catching at least every five days. He also got to be the Yankee’s star catcher in the postseason.

In the last half of the 2020 season, Higashioka became an unlikely hero for the New York Yankees; not only did Cole select him as his personal catcher, but Kyle also made history at the plate. In a September game against the Toronto Blue Jays, he went 3 for 4 with three home runs in the game, becoming the first Yankee backup catcher to hit three home runs in a game. In the postseason, he caught in six of the eight-game hitting .278. Finally, the longest-tenured Yankee was a star.

New York Yankee Report Card: A

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.

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 Tommy John surgery’s need. 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 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, Higashioka was called up several times to the New York Yankees 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’s 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 competes 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.

Higashioka’s personals

Kyle is married to his wife, Alyse. They were married in November of 2016 in Maui; they reportedly have no children 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 Yankee players and is very well-liked and respected by the other players. Austin Romine had often referred to Kyle as a Godsend. He takes classes in mechanical engineering at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, in the off-season.