Barring unforeseen circumstances, J.R. Murphy isn’t going to be the New York Yankees’ starting catcher anytime soon. Not with Brian McCann inked to a five-year contract worth $85 million. But that doesn’t preclude Murphy from having a bright future, be it in the Bronx or elsewhere.
A second-round pick in 2009 out of a Bradenton, Fla., high school, Murphy has developed into an able backstop. The 22-year-old threw out nearly half the runners attempting to steal against him last year in the minor leagues. He also can handle the bat. In 108 games at Double-A and Triple-A, he hit .269/.347/.426, with a dozen home runs.
Murphy got his first taste of big-league action in September, getting 27 plate appearances. He talked about his development prior to a game at Fenway Park.
Murphy on his positional past: “I started catching my sophomore year of high school. I then missed my junior year, so I only caught two years prior to being drafted. When I was drafted, I was unsure of what they wanted me to do. They told me I was going to catch.
“I played the majority of my first two years behind the plate. I also played some third, maybe 10 games in each of those years. They basically wanted to see how I looked [at both positions]. I wanted it to be catching — I’ve always loved catching — and that’s what they saw fit.
“[Originally] the move was made at my high school. I was a pitcher and third baseman prior to being a catcher. He said ‘Hey, there aren’t too many 5-foot-10 pitchers out there in the big leagues. I’m going to stick you behind the plate and see how you like it.’ It evolved from there.”
On developing as a catcher: “It’s been a long process. I was not very good when I was drafted. I’ve come a long way. We have very good player development here in the organization, including some really good catching guys, so I’ve learned a lot. In many ways, I’m completely different from when I signed. Slowly, but surely, there’s been a total evolution.
“Catching is as much mental as it is physical, and I’ve made great strides in that area. It goes back to all the catching knowledge we have in this organization. Don Wakamatsu is here. Julio [Mosquera] our minor league catching guy. Joe [Girardi] and Tony [Pena]. I’ve also talked to the other catchers in the organization.”
On calling a game: “You have a plan, and you also have to be able to think along with the hitter. Actually, you have to stay one step ahead of what the hitter is thinking. Reading swings is important. That’s something Larry [Rothschild] stresses a lot, reading swings and knowing what to throw after that.
“When you play a team many times throughout the year, they learn your tendencies. You have to be careful not to fall into patterns when you’re calling games.”
On priorities and his hitting approach: “Hitting has been my most constant since I’ve signed. That being said, it’s such a grind catching that you have to learn to balance the two. My No. 1 priority is catching and if I hit, great. A lot more time is put into my catching than my hitting.
“My [hitting] approach varies depending on the situation, but at this level, you mostly just want to put together good at bats and help the team win any way you can. I try not to guess along with the pitcher, but there are spots where you can open up and do that somewhat. As catcher, you’re calling a game yourself, so you kind of get a feel for what they‘re doing against you. Even so, you mostly just want to stick to your approach and react.”
On his first big league start: “I was anxious. Once I found out I was playing, I just wanted the first pitch to be thrown so I could be all right. I was a little antsy to get the game started, but once it did, I was OK. For the most part [C.C. Sabathia and I] were on the same page. He may have shaken off a few times, but it went fine. I felt comfortable back there.
“I’m not surprised I’m here. I’ve put a lot of hard work in, and I’m confident. I’m obviously glad I’m here, and I hope I’m here for a lot longer. I feel ready.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.