BRADENTON, Fla. - Well, that didn’t take long.
In one of his first swings of minor league spring, John Ryan Murphy put one over the wall.
And it may have signaled the start of something big for him.
Just optioned to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre from big league camp, Murphy blasted an impressive solo home run for the RailRiders in the third inning of a Triple-A exhibition game Wednesday against Indianapolis, the top minor affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“Home runs are always good,” Murphy said. “I don’t know of a bad time for a homer.”
His first order of business when he arrived at spring training was to get rid of a bad nickname.
Known as J.R. Murphy when he was playing catcher for both the RailRiders and the New York Yankees last season, his first order of business when he arrived at spring training was insisting on being listed and called by his proper name - John Ryan.
“It’s always been that way, my family always called me that, everybody,” Murphy said.
He believes the abbreviated version came from minor league teammates trying to give him a catchy nickname of J.R.
“It was just, baseball changed it to that,” Murphy said. “I never cared enough to tell them.”
No matter what he’s known by, Wednesday’s shot that sailed high over the fence and rattled off the pavilion at Pirate
City just confirmed what Murphy already knew. His timing may not be that far off.
His statistics suggest Murphy may have been way off in his bid to win a backup catching job with the parent New York Yankees. He batted a paltry .077 with just two hits in 14 major league spring training games before the Yankees sent him down Monday, while carrying the lowest batting average among Yankees who had more than 15 at-bats.
But New York did take a long, hard look at Murphy until the final week of spring training. And he did drive home five runs - tied for the fourth-highest number on the Yankees at the time he left for the RailRiders - while one of his two hits in major league camp was a home run.
“I don’t think my numbers really showed how I felt,” Murphy said. “I think I had a good approach at the plate, played well defensively. I just didn’t have the batting average to show for it. But I got plenty of opportunities.”
His big opportunity came last season, when the Yankees needed help behind the plate after injuries and a suspension put them in a bind.
Murphy helped them out, and in the process, played his way into New York’s mind.
He batted just .154 in 16 games for the Yankees last season, but raised his stock in the organization by comfortably handling their starting catching duties for more than a week.
He also had a double, RBI and scored three runs in his first taste of the big leagues.
“Anytime you have experience at the big league level, it helps your confidence build,” said Murphy, the second-round draft pick of the Yankees in 2009 who will turn 23 in May. “To understand it’s the same game, just a lot more people watching you is not exactly easy to overcome. The more you’re around it, the easier it is to adjust.”
His success in New York came during a season where Murphy also split time between Double-A Trenton and made his Triple-A debut for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he hit .270 in 59 games for the RailRiders with six homers, 19 doubles and 21 RBI.
It all combined to make him part of the competition with Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine to back up Yankees regular Brian McCann, who was signed away from the Atlanta Braves as a free agent over the offseason.
“That was my goal going to camp, to win a job,” Murphy said. “(But) Francisco had a really good camp, he deserves that job. I’m just thankful for my experience there.”
While he was around the big club, Murphy had a chance to learn a few things from manager Joe Girardi and coaches Tony Pena and Greg Tuck - who were all major league catchers - as well as former National League All-Star McCann and highly-regarded Yankees prospect Romine.
“Their knowledge is endless,” Murphy said.
Now, he plans to used it to continue his development with the RailRiders at the start of this year.
“I want to catch as much as possible,” Murphy said, “and everything that comes with it - knowing the pitchers, learning the league - all those things that go into being a good catcher, I want to learn.”