Yankees Prospect #10: Francisco Cervelli

Cervelli is a special defensive catcher

The Yankees signed Francisco Cervelli as an International free-agent out of Venezuela back in March of 2003. Skipping a minor league level in his first full season last year, he has quickly become one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues and he has shown some offensive potential as well.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Francisco Cervelli
Position: Catcher
DOB: March 6, 1986
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 180
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

"I was so excited about my year," said Cervelli. "I worked hard everyday from Spring Training through the season and I feel so excited. I thought I was going to be playing with Charleston [in 2007] but they moved me to the Tampa Yankees. It's a pitcher's league so I had to work hard and [now] I think I'm ready for Double-A."

After batting .309 with the Staten Island Yankees in 2006, the Yankees had Cervelli and his superb defensive abilities skip the low-A level entirely and go directly to the Florida State League last season, and he responded with a solid .279 batting average.

"I think it was great to watch, he was outstanding," said James Rowson, Tampa's hitting coach in 2007 and current Yankees hitting coordinator. "I don't know if he's ever caught that many games in a season. I think he caught close to 90 games this year which is something new for him. I think fatigue definitely plays a role in it in his first full-season, tiring down the stretch."

Hitting .301 before the All-Star break and as high as .329 through the first week of June, considering it was his first full-season behind the plate it was understandable when he mustered just a .248 average after the break.

"As a catcher - when you hit you need to use your legs - his are going to go before everybody else's because of the workload he has defensively," Rowson added. "He did an outstanding job. I thought he was consistent throughout the year, that was the biggest thing for him. We wondered about that in Spring Training and how he was going to hit in this league and different things like that.

"He was unbelievable. He stayed consistent, he had a routine, he had an approach, and the good thing about him was he knows how to handle a bat with two strikes. That's another good thing to see from a young hitter, he's not afraid to hit with two strikes. I can't say enough about Francisco, he was unbelievable this year."

While some might get down on his second-half swoon from a numbers standpoint, what has the Yankees very encouraged was the consistency he showed in his approach at the plate and the continued adjustments he made in his swing.

"Francisco is a guy who had far too much movement in his load and in his stride that just didn't allow him to consistently take good swings and consistently get good timing," said former Yankees hitting coordinator Gary Denbo. "If you look at guys throughout the organization, he really stood out in his rookie year as a guy who really was mostly out of control during his at-bats.

"He has really developed now into one of the hitters in the Yankees' organization that is very quiet in his movements. There are very few unnecessary movements in his load and in his stride. It has allowed him to get better pitch recognition and to take more consistent swings."

A very patient hitter who has proven he can be a plus hitter at times over the course of the last two seasons, questions still arise from his critics over his power potential and that's a facet of his game that the Yankees have not concerned themselves with yet.

"You have to be a good hitter before you can be a power hitter," said Rowson. "I think he's got the ability to drive some balls out of the ballpark. Would I say he's going to hit 50 home runs in the big leagues? I probably wouldn't say that but he's a gap-to-gap hitter who can drive in some runs in the middle of the order and if you make a mistake he's going to make you pay for it. To me I see him as that style of hitter."

"I don't look at Francisco Cervelli and say he's going to hit for a lot of power," added Denbo, "but I think this is a guy who's going to drive the ball into the gaps and occasionally hit some home runs for you. He's more of a doubles-type hitter and his defense is just outstanding."

Encouraged by his offensive development in his short career thus far, the Yankees can't help but be extremely excited about his complete defensive package behind the plate and overall leadership skills.

"I'm going to be honest, to me, he can catch right now in the big leagues," said Yankees catching coordinator Julio Mosquera. "He could be anybody's backup right now. He's tremendous behind the plate, he can catch and throw, he can block, he's a leader behind the plate, and he knows how to call a game. He looks like he's sleeping behind the plate but that's what we need to do - relax.

"If you throw the ball in the ground when somebody goes [attempts to steal], he's as quick as a cat. I think he can catch right now for any team in the big leagues. Hopefully his bat is coming around and he's learning to hit a little more, but he could backup anybody right now."

With little doubt he has the abilities to be a stalwart backup catcher for years to come, the Yankees believe he has the makeup and work ethic to develop into something a bit more special.

"To watch this kid develop, if you ask anybody that has seen him play or been on a team with him - managers love Francisco, the coaches love him, the pitchers love to throw to Francisco, and the umpires love to umpire behind him,' said Denbo. He's a pleasure to watch defensively and I think he's just going to keep improving offensively."

"He's a definite prospect in the organization, and if his offense comes along, and if he continues to work hard and stay healthy, then he's got a chance to be a frontline starting catcher in the major leagues. It depends on his offense. If he continues to develop like he has then he's got a chance to be a starting catcher. He's a pleasure to watch."

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2007 Tampa .279 290 24 2 32 34 4 36 59 .387 .397
2006 Staten Island .309 136 10 2 16 21 0 13 30 .397 .426
2005 Gulf Coast .190 58 2 1 9 10 1 8 13 .300 .276
2004 DSL .216 88 2 1 14 14 1 19 18 .392 .273
2003 DSL .239 155 4 0 14 14 0 24 25 .379 .277


Batting and Power. Cervelli has a controlled presence at the plate, one where he shows great plate discipline, patience, and confidence. He works himself deep into counts and focuses on hitting line-drives from gap-to-gap. Intensely focused, he is one of the better hit-and-run batters and he simply becomes an even tougher out as the pressure mounts. Physically strong and a workout junkie of sorts, he has developing home run power and he is just now learning his power zone at the plate.

Base Running and Speed. While he'll never be confused with a speedster, Cervelli is actually a plus runner at the catcher's position. Lacking true speed, he uses his agility and all-out hustle to become a moderate base stealing threat overall. He hasn't proven it yet, but he has the potential to be a double-digit stolen base threat just on athleticism alone.

Defense. Cervelli is one of the best catch-and-throw guys at the minor league level - period! He led the Florida State League by throwing out 41 percent of would-be base stealers due to his quick release, strong arm, and very accurate throws. He is also very adept at blocking balls in the dirt and he is an impeccable receiver, excelling at framing pitches. But as good as those traits are, they pale in comparison to his ability to handle a pitching staff and calling games, and working tirelessly to learn English over the years has certainly helped. With no weaknesses in his game, he is a Gold Glove caliber catcher already.

Projection. Seldom do catchers from high-A ball with just one full-season under their belt get selected to the 40-man roster and that speaks volumes of his abilities and his value to the organization. Cervelli's outstanding defensive abilities alone make him a sure-bet to become a big league backup catcher at minimum, but his defensive game and leadership skills are so special the Yankees might be willing to sacrifice some offense to get him into as many games as possible. His makeup is off the charts and there isn't a harder worker in the entire organization. Not only does he push himself to be the best, he does the same to his teammates and that's a trait that can not be taught. A solid hitter who has the propensity to come up huge in the big spots, if he can improve his power and become just a double-digit home run threat, he has the chance to develop into an everyday catcher with perennial All-Star talent.

ETA. 2009. Cervelli is destined to begin the 2008 season in Double-A and, already able to handle the position defensively at the big league level, all bets are off as to when he will make his big league debut. As a member of the 40-man roster he could get a late season call-up but we're betting the Yankees will wait one more year before starting his big league service clock.

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