Injuries, free-agent departures and budget adjustments have placed the New York Yankees roster in transition.
Usually approaching the offseason with a minor agenda for change, the Yankees have several positions to fill this winter with different faces.
Their free-agent departures included veteran catcher Russell Martin, a reliable defender and good receiver for his pitchers. In the second half last season, Martin's offense improved and he made important contributions at the plate.
If they aren't involved in a trade or acquisition for a starting catcher, it looks as if the Yankees will begin Spring Training with catching options that include veterans Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli to go along with 24-year-old prospect Austin Romine.
Each of the three are considered defense-first catchers, a factor valued by manager Joe Girardi, himself a veteran of 15 Major League seasons behind the plate.
Romine was an extremely good player at El Toro High School (Orange County, Calif.). He hit .418, .407 and .493 in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons, respectively.
After high school, the Yankees selected Romine with their second-round pick in the 2007 First Year Player Draft.
The son of former Boston Red Sox outfielder Kevin Romine, Austin comes from a baseball family. His older brother, Andrew, is an infielder on the roster of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Because he signed late, Austin Romine saw action in only one game in 2007. The following season he hit .300 in 436 plate appearances, while catching for the Charleston club in the South Atlantic League. He showed good contact, striking out just 56 times. He also hit 10 home runs.
This past season, Romine played at three classifications, hitting .243 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 120 plate appearances. His season was limited due to a back injury that kept him out of the lineup.
To gain additional catching experience this fall, and to make up for missed hitting opportunities, Romine made his third appearance in the Arizona Fall League. He also played in the league in 2009 and '10. I was able to watch him play during all three seasons.
Romine, six feet and 220 pounds, looked rather slow and a bit out of sync at the plate in the AFL. In the past, I have seen his hands get through the ball much quicker and with greater torque. However, he may have been a bit rusty from limited hitting during the season.
When I have seen him at his best, Romine was able to take pitches to the right-center-field gap. In Arizona, he had four doubles among his 14 hits on his way to a .222 batting average.
However, showing an ability I had seen before, Romine made good contact, striking out just 13 times in his 63 at-bats.
If there was an issue that surfaced in Romine's hitting mechanics, it was the tardiness of his bat. He didn't get his swing in the path of the ball quickly enough to consistently drive the pitch.
His stance, his weight shift and his overall swing plane seemed fine. However, his bat dragged, causing weak contact. Too often his swing was long and somewhat loopy, requiring extra time as well.
While offense is certainly important to the Yankees and can't be dismissed, Romine does offer good defensive skills behind the plate.
Solid Major League catchers are multifaceted, talented athletes. Few are perfect in every phase of catching.
First, catchers must be good receivers of pitches.
Good catchers must know the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters. They must lead their pitcher through a game by calling for the correct pitch at the correct time.
Footwork behind the plate to block balls and get in proper throwing position is crucial for success.
Keeping the team informed of every situation -- the number of outs and any potential defensive plays -- adds to the importance of the catcher as the focal point of a defense.
Finally, having an ability to throw quickly and accurately with good strength and carry on the ball is vital.
I have found Romine to be capable in most of those essential areas.
Arm strength might be Romine's most well-developed tool, though he needs a bit of improvement with his accuracy. This past fall, 27 runners tried to steal while Romine was catching. He threw out eight.
Throwing out potential base stealers is a three-part transaction involving the pitcher and the catcher.
Ideally, the pitch must arrive in the catcher's glove in 1.3 to 1.4 seconds from the time the pitcher's hands separate to throw the pitch. That step is probably the most important component of the equation.
Secondly, the catcher must pop up from his crouch and transfer the pitch from glove to hand and get the ball to second base in less than two seconds. Most good Major League catchers have times anywhere from 1.8 to 1.98 seconds.
Third, the catcher's throw must be accurate to the infielder covering the base. (It also helps if the runner is slow.)
In most instances, runners steal because the pitch arrives at the plate too slowly to give the catcher a chance to react, transfer and throw quickly enough. Of course, the catcher must first recognize the runner is trying to steal.
Romine is a very solid partner in the transaction. In the games I observed, he consistently released the ball in sufficient time.
Receiving the ball well, moving well behind the plate, working well with his pitchers and controlling the running game are attributes that Romine will bring to the catching corps of the New York Yankees.
While his offense remains a work in progress, the club will benefit by his leadership potential in a crucial position during the Yankees' current roster transition.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.