Trenton, New Jersey – There’s Yankees prospects, then there’s Austin Romine.
While he remains behind Jesus Montero, the trajectory of Romine’s career has been far more debated and interesting. And of the two, you’d be hard pressed to find someone that’s ever questioned who the better defensive catcher is. Romine likely comes out on top for most people in that area.
Despite future uncertainty, he’s finally taken a step in the direction many thought he would have taken earlier.
On September 1st he was promoted to Triple-A Scranton. The cheering of his teammates could be heard down the hall outside of the clubhouse. The respect he garners has been earned from the day he arrived in Trenton in 2010. The day before his promotion he clarified what the plan had been coming into the 2011 season.
“This season was mostly focused on the offensive part. I take a lot of pride in defense, but I was told I needed to do a little bit better at the plate. Catching still comes first.”
Romine’s pitching staff was led for most of the first half by Dellin Betances and Manny Banuelos. While the top two Yankees pitching prospects didn’t do quite as good as expected, overall, Romine saw all of his guys as progressing in understanding the art of pitching.
“We had a good staff, a couple of guys went up. I think it was a little bumpy here and there, but I think they’re learning how to pitch at a higher level. That takes time. I think they’ve all made big strides and also still have stuff to work on. ”
His own work behind the plate is not as much a work in progress as his hitting is, but there’s still more to improve and polish. Communication is the key according to the twenty-three-year-old.
“I learn how to all a better game everyday and how to help the pitchers do what they want to do. With time as a catcher, the more you’re behind the plate the more you improve. I learn more stuff every single year I’m out there. I learn from the pitchers and the relationships we have.”
Had he not missed five weeks on the DL, he might have been able to capitalize on an early season surge. Despite any setback, Romine feels he did his best.
“I can just go up there and do what I can do. I think I had a good year, minus the injuries [concussion and back].”
When asked if Montero’s future is something he pays any attention to, Romine is emphatic.
“Nope. Not at all. I tend not to care about that kind of stuff. If I think about that, I’m not really in the mindset to play baseball. The question has been asked for four years. If I didn’t like the guy it would be like that. But we’re friends and we’ve actually lived together. I don’t get mad at being asked. I know you have to ask. It’s the story. It’s what you guys are told to ask. I understand that. I answer it the best I can.”
With so many catching prospects in the Yankees system, it’s unclear what direction they will ultimately go. Romine could be part of their future plans, but is prepared to embrace whatever comes.
“The overall goal is to be catching for the Yankees. They’ve given me everything I have and I’ve learned everything from them. I feel like I can give back to them by being a catcher. But it comes down to getting chances and getting shots. If it’s with this team I would like nothing more. It’s my goal. It’s my vision. But if it leads another way, my ultimate goal is to be in the big leagues with whatever team. I would like it to be the Yankees. But the goal is the big leagues.”
Romine’s improved patience at the plate was obvious. Walks and strikeouts were better. He hit for higher average, especially through August, finishing hitting .300. He started the season looking like a very different player, taking his time in his at-bats and hitting for contact more frequently. He finishes his 2011 season with Trenton with 47 runs batted in and 32 walks.
In his final game for Trenton he went 0-4 as DH. The Thunder fell just short of the Fisher Cats with a final score of 3-2 for their final home game of 2011. Romine’s promotion was made official just a few minutes later.
But he seemed long gone, long before that moment.
*Photo of Austin Romine’s final Trenton Thunder game by Reilly Sharp