TAMPA, Fla. – A back injury limited Austin Romine to just 31 games in 2012.
Once rated as one of the top prospects in New York’s minor league system by scouts and publications, the catcher has plummeted due to the injury-riddled campaign.
Now, he’s trying to show everyone that even though he was hampered last season he still is an elite player despite losing valuable time on the field.
“With an injury you lose some time and that’s huge because you don’t have a lot of time in this game to make an impression,” Romine said. “I’m looking to go back and let them know I’m still the guy that they want in New York at the end of the day.”
When he was healthy in previous seasons, the 24-year-old proved he is one of the top catchers in the minors. In 2011 he played at three levels starting at Double-A Trenton and advancing to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre before making his Major League debut for New York. That helped him be ranked the No. 8 prospect in the organization according to Baseball America.
But then last spring training he was diagnosed with two bulging discs in his back. He was sidelined from February until July when he finally started getting some playing time, but it appeared to be too late for the 2012 season and he dropped in the BA team rankings to No. 17 this season. But he continued to workout and get stronger and better than ever heading into this campaign.
“I got to Triple-A right at the end and just tried to get as many at-bats as I could. My back now is 100 percent and I’m ready to go,” Romine said. “Ready to get to Scranton and get back in it as an everyday catching thing. I want to catch 120 games, as many as needed. I’m really excited to be going out there.”
Once he got on the field again, the top defensive catcher in the Yankees organization could have been in the driver’s seat for a shot at the starting catcher role in New York when Russell Martin signed with the Pirates. But in a competition in spring training, Romine was the odd-man out of a three-catcher race with Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said during spring that the youngster of the group would benefit more playing everyday in the minors instead of being in a possible platoon situation in the Majors.
That has given the two-time Futures Game selection more incentive to get to the bigs.
“Anywhere you go there’s going to be guys above you and below you. Until you get that starting job with the big team there’s always someone in front and there’s always someone behind pushing you,” he said. “It’s actually a good thing because it keeps you on your toes, keeps you working hard. There’s that ‘I want to be better than that guy.’ It really keeps pushing you to get better.”
In previous healthy seasons, Romine was behind coveted prospect Jesus Montero in the organization. He’s still not the top-ranked backstop with 20-year-old Gary Sanchez — who many consider a clone of Montero — highly regarded.
But Romine has shown ability in the past of being that elite player, and with a strong rebound season he could be back up there by himself.