The New York Yankees entered the season with two really good catchers: one, Gary Sanchez, was the starter ever since he broke in with the major league team, but had a lousy season in 2020 that cost him the starting gig for the playoffs.
The other one, Kyle Higashioka, was the one who replaced Sanchez come postseason time last year, but entered the 2021 campaign in a reserve role. The tables have turned by this point, since Sanchez is once again struggling, with a .182/.308/.309 line and two homers, while Higgy has turned into quite the offensive weapon, slashing .320/.414/.880 and four dingers.
Do you care to guess who is the Yankeesâ€™ leader in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) in Fangraphsâ€™ version? Yup, Kyle Higashioka paces all position players in the club with 0.8 after Tuesdayâ€™s games.
â€œHeâ€™s just earned more playing time — simple as that,â€ Boone said of Higashioka. â€œHeâ€™s done a great job. His improvements over the last couple of years on both sides of the ball have been strong. I think the way heâ€™s played here at the onset of the season have earned him some more opportunities.â€
The Yankees are trusting Higashiokaâ€™s great start
Higgy was one of the most valuable Yankees on Tuesday night, too, going 2-for-4 with a home run in the Bombersâ€™ 5-1 victory in Camden Yards.
For Higashioka, having more playing time also means more exposure to big league pitching and testing his ability to make adjustments. But his defense alone warrants lots of games.
â€œ[Higashioka] just has really elite glove skill,â€ said catching coach Tanner Swanson. â€œI think his hands work extremely well. They’re smooth, quiet. He’s got really strong pocket accuracy and subtly manipulates pitches back to the strike zone. He’s refined the art of that skill and is really, really consistent doing so.â€
The Yankeesâ€™ manager Aaron Boone told MLB.comâ€™s official team site that he has spoken to Sanchez about the reduction in playing time.
â€œThey’re obviously both going to play a lot, but it’ll be kind of a day-by-day thing that Iâ€™ll try and communicate as best I can,â€ Boone said. â€œ[SÃ¡nchez] understood the situation. He wants [to be] in the lineup, but I think he certainly understands that Higgy has earned some more things as well.â€