Scouting Yanks Prospect #21: Kyle Higashioka

Higashioka's approach is what really stands out

The Yankees drafted catcher Kyle Higashioka in the seventh round of the 2008 MLB Draft out of Edison High School in California. Signability concerns caused him to slip in the draft that year and he has now quickly developed into one of the better all-around catchers in the organization.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Kyle Higashioka
Position: Catcher
DOB: April 20, 1990
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 190
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

He hit just .253 with a pair of home runs for the Staten Island Yankees in 2009, but he proved to be very clutch despite being one of the youngest position players in the league and his defensive game was widely regarded as very advanced.

"I think it went pretty well," Higashioka said of his season. "I did what I needed to do. I caught everyday and I got better. I got a lot better I thought.

"I got some at-bats, some good experience, and it's always fun to catch for a winning team. I came out of the season with a positive attitude. I thought it went well personally as well as for the team."

Not only did he help guide a pitching staff to a league-leading twelve shutouts and New York Penn League best 2.53 ERA over the year at such a young age, he was a contributing factor to another league title.

"He's going to be a very good defensive catcher," Staten Island manager and former big league catcher Josh Paul said. "He's way, way, way ahead of the curve mentally.

"And he's 19 and he's calling games way, way over his league that he's in. He handles the pitching staff flawlessly. Mentally though, I've never seen anyone this advanced."

Higashioka earned consensus praise for his defensive game, and while the offensive numbers might not have been what everyone wanted, the approach is already there.

"Last year [2008] it was more go up there, look for a good pitch, and hit," Higashioka said of his approach. "Now I'm beginning to reach pitchers tendencies, looking for patterns and what they're throwing.

"I never used to do that but it helps a lot now. I'm just becoming a smarter hitter as I get more and more at-bats, especially working with hitting coaches."

He batted mostly in the third or fourth spots in the lineup even though there were players with better power numbers and his manager cautions those who merely look at numbers to judge Higashioka's offensive game.

"He's got a simple, direct, and compact swing," Paul said. "I think that will play out in the future, especially when he gets bigger and stronger. He's pretty disciplined at the plate and he's got a solid approach.

"To a point numbers at these levels don't mean anything, it's looking at how they handle situations and if they are improving too."

Higashioka believes he should have had better numbers by season's end and he's not sure if the rigors of catching everyday for the first time in his career caused him to tire down the stretch or not.

He is working to rectify that this offseason and he's hoping that a little more strength, combined with his approach, will spell better success going forward.

"A lot of that had to do with [hitting with] runners on-base," Higashioka said of batting cleanup. "I practice that stuff in BP.

"Everyday in BP in the last round I would put as much pressure as I could on myself, ‘this is the game winner with a runner on third base, two outs and bottom of the ninth' – everyday doing that, you get better and better hitting in those clutch situations.

"I felt I was the guy we wanted up there in a run scoring situation. I knew that I could do it."














2009 Staten Island .253 217 11 2 32 24 0 26 31 .333 .332
2008 GCL Yankees .261 46 1 1 3 5 0 2 8 .300 .348

Batting and Power. Higashioka is mature beyond his years in the batter's box. He is both extremely confident and calm, and his astute knowledge of the strike zone and patient approach allow him to be one the better clutch hitters in the organization. Throw in his center-to-opposite field approach and short, compact swing, he has the look of a perennial .300 hitter in due time. He is also strong for his age and his very good bat speed allows him to sting the ball. The numbers don't exactly show it yet, but he has above average power potential and the type of body frame to easily add on useful muscle mass.

Base Running and Speed. He is a below average runner overall, but he is quicker than most catchers and that should allow him to be a head's up situational runner.

Defense. Higashioka has everything going for him on the defensive side of the ball with the exception of plus arm strength. His arm is merely average, but his release is very quick and his throws are accurate. He blocks balls well, he already knows how to call a game, and he is one of the better receivers behind the plate. Throw in his innate leadership skills - he has spent the last year teaching himself Spanish, a clear sign of doing all that he can do to better himself - there isn't much he can't do defensively.

Projection. Forget the fact that he is still a teenager, his approach to every facet of his game is extremely advanced and his makeup is off the charts. His natural ability to build a strong rapport with his pitchers and earn their trust, as well his take-charge attitude, has an immeasurable impact on the game. Defensively, he isn't far from being major league ready already so he safely projects as a big league backup at minimum. Offensively though, he employs a David Wright-like approach and his power is developing. Should that power materialize in the coming years, he has the chance to be a special two-way starting catcher in the big leagues who could hit in the heart of an order.

ETA. 2013. All signs point towards Higashioka breaking camp with the Charleston Riverdogs in 2010, but don't be surprised if he skips the low-A level and jumps right into the Florida State League. He could handle such a move.

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