Thursday, May 21, 2009

Frankie Goes to Hollywood The Bronx

I'm already kicking myself for referencing such a shitty band in the title, but I couldn't think of anything wittier to introduce a post about a player who is fast becoming a fan favorite.

When Jorge Posada went down with a hamstring injury on May 4th, followed by Jose Molina injuring his quadriceps three days later, I thought the Yankees catching situation was pretty well screwed.

Being the only other catcher 40 man roster, Francisco Cervelli was recalled as soon as Posada went on the DL. I had already braced myself for a mini-repeat of last year, when Molina was forced into everyday duty and responded by hitting .216/.263/.313, good for an OPS+ of 51. It had been 100 years since a Yankee catcher received that many plate appearances and posted an OPS+ that bad.

But when Molina went down, making Cervelli the de-facto starter, I feared things would get worse. While he'll never be Yogi Berra with the bat, in the long run Francisco should be better with the stick than Molina. But at the time of his recall, Cervelli had all of 152 career PA above A-ball and was hitting .190/.266/.310 at AA. Now he was going to be an everyday player in the Big Leagues; he would assuredly be overmatched.

Then something funny happened. Cervelli was inserted into the starting line-up and CC Sabathia pitched a shutout. That started the Yankees on their current 10-2 run. Cervelli has started 8 of the 12 games and is hitting .370.

But it's not the statistics that have been so impressive. It's been watching Cervelli play: his enthusiasm, his confidence, his howitzer of a right arm, his handling of the pitching staff, his headfirst flop across the plate Tuesday night. He carries himself like a veteran, somewhat reminiscient of a young Derek Jeter, though perhaps a little more demonstrative.

His stats will come crashing back to earth eventually. He'll be lucky to be a .270 Big League hitter, let alone .370. He hasn't shown any power in the minors and has yet to record an XBH in the Majors. I doubt he can even continue to throw out base-stealers at his current 44% clip. But I'm more convinced now than I was before that he can succeed at the Major League level.

Cervelli missed nearly all of last season, registering only 112 PA after breaking his wrist in a needless home plate collision in spring training. Outside of a decent walk rate, he doesn't possess any real offensive skills. As with Ramiro Pena, I fear that keeping Cervelli in the Majors without ever playing in AAA may stunt what little offensive potential he has. But both are keeping their heads above water for the moment, and I'm enjoying watching them play.

Jose Molina's 2 year, $4M contract expires at season's end. Cervelli will likely inherit the back-up role next year, potentially seeing increased playing time if the aging Posada's body continues to betray him after so many injury-free years. Cervelli could then continue to serve as a caddy to Jesus Montero and/or Austin Romine as they arrive in The Bronx. I hope he continues to be as entertaining as he's been the past two weeks. If only he would grow a Sal Fasano stache.

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