Austin Romine Earns His Stripes

Trenton, New Jersey – The trade deadline came and went again, and a rumored deal involving Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero once again didn’t materialize.

This means Austin Romine,  the Yankees other top catching prospect, remains second in line to Montero.  Despite the belief of many that his defensive skills and leadership qualities put him far ahead of Montero, that’s the reality.

Those trade rumors never seem to involve Romine, an indication that the Yankees may have him, not Montero, in their long-term plans . Either way, Romine is doing exactly what is asked of him at Double-A Trenton and there is no distracting the twenty-three-year-old from his well-known intense focus.

Romine is in his second season at Trenton hitting .283 with 5 home runs, 44 RBI, and 28 walks. He began the season on the right foot, hitting .306 in April and knocking in 15 runs. While he hasn’t hit for average consistently, he’s shown tremendous improvement in pressure situations and overall patience at the plate.   his  In 2010 he struggled with pitch selection and developed a tendency to swing at pitches out of the zone. The result this year has been smarter at-bats, better contact, and more consistent results.

He was on a good roll when he had to go on the DL after suffering a concussion when he was hit by a ball behind the plate.”*

“The injury sucked. It came at a bad time,” Romine said.  “I had been swinging the bat good. But I came back. I’ve hit around .300 most of the time and that’s what I wanted to do.”

At the conclusion of last season, he knew exactly what he needed to work on in the off-season and heading into spring training.

“Last year I was trying to hit their pitch. I was chasing. I’m not afraid to get a strike or even hit with two strikes. It doesn’t bother me now to hit with two strikes. That bothered me last year. This year I’m more relaxed. I’m just more comfortable in the box. I have a better approach. I’m going to have a bad game, but hopefully if I do I’m able to get it back quicker.”

His progression at the plate is important, but the Yankees have made it clear to him that his value is behind the plate. His ability to call a game, be solid at the position, and work with the pitchers are the qualities that make him most meaningful to the organization.

“We talked about this with him last year from time to time,” said Thunder Manager Tony Franklin. “I think everybody in the organization will agree. It’s not the hitting that’s going to matter as much in his major league career as his defense.”

Romine’s razor-sharp instincts as a catcher allow him to trust himself and have earned him complete trust with his pitchers.

“If they don’t trust me then they aren’t going to perform well. Being able to just talk to them and them trusting what I’m saying, even sometimes when I’m bluffing, as a catcher you have to take chances. You tell them to throw a certain pitch and you don’t know if they guy is  going to hit it, but sometimes it takes that type of stuff to gain respect.”

It is his second season at the Double-A level, a level he thought he might be done with after last year. There was a good chance that Montero would be with the Yankees to start 2011 and that Romine would start at Triple-A Scranton. Romine quickly got over that.

“I’ve definitely benefited from it. Anytime you get to play everyday…that’s what I want. I believe I’m an everyday catcher. And I work really hard to be an everyday catcher. It’s what was dealt to me. And I get to come here and catch future big leaguers that are here now. This is pretty high caliber baseball.” Tony Franklin believes Romine has proven himself, not just in his own game but in how he’s influenced his teammates and their success.

“I think behind the plate is where he’s really made the biggest difference in his individual career, as well as what he’s done for our ball club. And he has a chance to get a lot better,” said Franklin.

At his heart, Romine cares most about his role as a catcher. He is always more interested in talking about a pitcher, than himself.  His maturity and leadership, as well as improvements at the plate, will be hard to ignore when the Yankees decide his future with them.

*On August 4th Romine went on the DL with disc discomfort.  He’s currently day-to-day.

Photo by Jessica Quiroli