This offseason Neal Huntington quietly dealt Justin Wilson to the Yankees for a little known Italo-Venezulean Catcher named Francisco Cervelli. Wilson is one year removed from being a big fish in the shark tank posting a 2.08 cumulative ERA in 2013 and even though he had a down year in 2014 he was still a coveted left handed reliever. Unless Huntington is just hopelessly addicted to acquiring Yankee Catchers (Martin, Stewart, and now Cervelli) he must see something here that I don’t.
So who is Franciso Cervelli exactly?
In short he was supposed to be a solid defensive catcher that could hit for average. In reality, he has been an injury plagued backup that has trouble throwing to second. When I say trouble throwing to second don’t get me wrong, the ball gets there, just well after the stolen base is completed. Nevertheless he is the lead candidate to be starting Catcher for the Pirates on opening day so I thought we could all get to know him a little better.
The Yankees signed Cervelli as an International Free Agent in 2003. Curiously enough Cervelli was not a catcher at the time but was asked to convert to the backstop role upon signing. That transition undoubtedly slowed his progression and he didn’t receive any substantial looks from the pinstripe brass until the 2008 season when he was graded as the 23rd overall Yankee prospect.
Not exactly a glaring compliment especially since the Yankees farm system is a barren desert of talent.
Regardless, Cervelli got his first real playing time in 2009 and in only his second start of the season he called a complete game shutout catching for CC Sabathia. That sadly may be the highlight of his career to date.
Unfortunately after that promising 2009 start, Cervelli just hasn’t been able to stay on the diamond. He started the 2010 season on the 25 man roster serving as Posada’s primary backup. Shortly thereafter he was hit in the head by a pitch resulting in a severe concussion that set him back considerably. At this point in this article, you’ll begin to notice a trend.
Despite the high hard one, he finished 2010 starting 80 games for the Yankees and he hit a respectable .271 but he showed no power and base runners had a veritable field day on him. He had a caught stealing percentage of 14%. That is an abysmal number which was well below the league average of 26% in 2010 and to put it into perspective, Yadier Molina threw out nearly 50% that year. To further put it in perspective, and this is scary, even the Fort Michael McHenry never dipped as low as 14% when he played for the Pirates. That’s important to note because base runners had it so easy when McHenry was behind the plate that they sent him thank you cards after the series. I just got chills….and not the good kind.
Despite opposing players virtually dancing around the base pads on Cervelli he entered the 2011 season as the primary backup to none other than Russel Martin. Unfortunately, Franky promptly broke his foot, was relegated to the DL before opening day and ended up logging only 43 games behind the dish that year. The only impressive stat in 2011 for Francisco was that he had a caught stealing percentage of exactly 14% for the second consecutive year. Now that’s impressive.
Going into 2012 Spring Training, the Yanks had high hopes for Cervelli, but he played so poorly that he lost the primary backup catcher role to, guess who, Chris Stewart. He was optioned to AAA to start the season and didn’t get called up until September.
After a season of reflection in the Minors, Cervelli stormed back in 2013 to win the starting job for the Yankees. Unfortunately in true Cervelli-like fashion he broke his hand in the first month of the season, was put on the 60 day DL and then was suspended 50 games for popping roids in the Biogenesis scandal. Are you seeing the trend?
Cervelli wasn’t done yet however. Being the glutten for punishment that he is, he fought hard to win back the starting job for the Yanks in 2014 but predictably, he hurt his hamstring 2 weeks into the season and was placed on the 60 day DL only to come back later in the season and experience debilitating migraines that effectively ended his 2014. I know what you’re thinking. Cervelli playing for the Pirates is going to be sweet. I know. I’m thinking the same thing.
So here we are with Franky. If you are a believer in past history as dictating future performance, then we can pretty much expect that Cervelli will win the starting job in Spring Training and then immediately get hurt in April and Chris Stewart or Tony Sanchez will be our everyday catcher. There’s those chills again.
But if you’re an unabashed optimist you can say that Cervelli will finally have a healthy season, live up to his full potential, and make the departure of Russel Martin seem like a meaningless footnote.
Just don’t bet on it.