Yankees prospect Romine gets chance to shine at Futures game

Yankees catching prospect Austin Romine plays in the Yankees catching prospect Austin Romine plays in the MLB Futures Game. (July 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - "I had a game" Friday, Austin Romine said, but he's not oblivious. He heard the chatter that Jesus Montero, the Yankees' Triple-A catcher, appeared headed to the Mariners in a package for Cliff Lee.

"It would've been good for me," Romine, the Yankees' Double-A catcher, said Sunday at Angel Stadium, where he took part in the Futures Game. "But I can't control it."

Life as a Yankees prospect used to mean that you were destined to be traded. The longer a title-less drought lasted, the more anxious George Steinbrenner became to unload youngsters for proven veterans.

Now, in Brian Cashman's reign, you absolutely can make it in New York; just ask Robinson Cano, an All-Star, and Brett Gardner. The new challenge is to cut through the farm system's depth.

"You try not to worry about it," said Romine, the son of former major-leaguer Kevin Romine. "It'll take care of itself."

Industrywide skepticism remains about Montero's ability to hold the catcher's position in the big leagues. For now, though, the Yankees still are playing Montero behind the plate for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. At the big-league level, veteran Jorge Posada is signed through next year and Francisco Cervelli has established himself as a bona fide backup, at the least.

Romine, 21, out of El Toro High School in nearby Lake Forest, Calif. - he said he had to turn away 40 ticket requests for this game, saving his allotted 10 for close family - has what looks to be a playable bat (a .360 on-base percentage and .421 slugging percentage) with defense that needs work, if less than Montero's does.

As a scout from another club told Newsday earlier this season: "I really like Romine. He's got a chance to be a very good two-way player behind the plate. He's an athletic kid who can hit and is going to be a good defensive catcher."

Romine said he focuses most on improving his relationships with pitchers. Trenton manager Tony Franklin, a coach at the Futures Game, said, "Like most young catchers who come highly touted with their bat out of A ball, they soon realize their importance is going to come in calling the game."

Romine works a lot with Trenton catching instructor Victor Valencia on throwing out runners. He has nailed only 12 of 63 attempted stealers (19 percent) this season. He threw out the World team's Eury Perez trying to steal in the seventh inning Sunday, but only after Perez overslid second base. At the plate, Romine went 1-for-2, crushing an eighth-inning double to left off Mets prospect Jeurys Familia.

Two other New York prospects participated:

Familia, 20, showed off impressive velocity - his fastball hit 98 mph on the MLB.com Pitch/Fx radar gun - but got hit hard, allowing three doubles in one-third of an inning. The Dominican Republic native is experiencing a difficult season at Class A St. Lucie.

Hector Noesi, Romine's teammate at Trenton and a Dominican native like Familia, threw a scoreless second inning for the World team. He threw fastballs ranging from 91 to 93 mph, but it's not unusual for pitchers here - capitalizing on the big stage and knowing they're going just an inning or two - to let it loose. Noesi is more often around 89 to 91, according to Baseball America's Jim Callis.

Noesi, 23, enjoying an outstanding season for Trenton (1.74 ERA in 62 innings) since being promoted from Class A Tampa, said he's working to improve his mechanics and focus. He served a 50-game suspension in 2007 after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

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