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Chavez, Nuñez on roster; catchers demoted

Yankees catcher Jesus Montero was sent down to

Yankees catcher Jesus Montero was sent down to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes Barre. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. -- The announcement that Eric Chavez has been added to the Yankees' 25-man roster was just a formality. All the backup infielder needed to do to make the team during spring training was show he could stay healthy.

But although it became apparent last week that this would be the case, it was jarring that both of their highly touted catching prospects, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine, will start this season where they ended the last one -- in the minors.

"That one [choice] was pretty evident with the spring that he had,'' Girardi said of Chavez, who hit .405 in 17 games and played more than capably at third base and first base. "We feel that he's healthy and we feel it's a good bat for a day that we rest [Alex Rodriguez or Mark Teixeira] . . . Really pleased with what he did.''

But though he didn't say it, that wasn't necessarily the case with Montero and Romine.

Montero, considered the organization's top prospect, was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre. Romine, not rated as highly but still looked at as a potential top-tier major-league catcher, was optioned to Double-A Trenton.

In what Girardi called his "toughest'' decision, Eduardo Nuñez won the backup infielder spot over Ramiro Peña, who was optioned to Triple-A.

Clearly, neither young catcher seized the opportunity presented when Francisco Cervelli fractured his left foot March 7. Instead, barring a trade or the addition of a catcher from another organization, Gustavo Molina will open the season as Russell Martin's backup.

At no point, Girardi said, was Jorge Posada, 39, a consideration as the backup. That stems from a combination of concern about past concussions and his preparation to be the designated hitter. "Right now he's our DH,'' Girardi said, "and we're going to leave it that way.''

Referring to Montero and Romine, he said, "We thought it was more beneficial for them to play every day than maybe just getting a couple of starts in the month of April. When you look at those two young guys, we consider them front-line catcher in the big leagues someday.''

Montero, 21, made some early gains defensively in spring training but then regressed, according to several scouts who watched him after Cervelli got hurt. As for his hitting -- the tool that makes him special -- he was 10-for-40 with no homers and two RBIs in 19 games.

Romine, 22, hit .182 (4-for-22) with one homer and one RBI.The Yankees told him they consider him major league-ready defensively.

"I saw improvement out of both of them, a lot of improvement since last year,'' Girardi said. " . . . I think Montero is better than he showed, a much better player. I think he pressed. I told him, when you do come up one day, try to learn from this experience.''

Montero said he is "fine'' with the decision, adding: "I'm going to do my best in Triple-A to get the little things done and be ready when the opportunity comes to go to New York.''

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