- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 1", Weight 210 lb.
Catcher Francisco Cervelli was signed by scout Hector Rincones for the New York Yankees in 2003. He made his pro debut with the DSL Yankees 1 in 2003. Cervelli played for the same team in 2004 before coming stateside in 2005 with the GCL Yankees.
Cervelli was seriously injured in a collision at home plate during spring training 2008 in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He was a top New York Yankees prospect at that point after hitting .279 with an OBP 100 points higher for the Class-A Tampa Yankees in 2007. However, the injury shortened his 2008 season to 27 games for three different minor league teams. Still, he showed that he remained on track for the majors during his time with the AA Trenton Thunder, where he put up a line of .315/.432/.816 in 21 games. That earned him a late-season call-up to the big leagues in September, and he went 0 for 5 in 3 games in his cup of coffee in pinstripes.
While Cervelli was born in Venezuela, his family background is Italian. He was recruited by the Italian national baseball team for the 2009 World Baseball Classic and started his team's second game behind the plate against Canada. He was called up by the Yankees early in the 2009 season when regular catchers Jorge Posada and Jose Molina were sidelined in turn by injuries.
In 2010, Cervelli took over from Molina as Posada's main back-up. With Posada catching fewer games because of his age, he got a chance to play often. He batted very well - albeit with little power - in the early going, although his average fell back to his career norms as the season advanced. However, he showed good defense and an excellent ability to handle pitchers, giving manager Joe Girardi the chance to rest Posada more often and play him as the designated hitter after Nick Johnson was lost for the season because of an injury. In 93 games, he hit .271 with no homers and 38 RBIs. However, he would fail to take the next step forward over the following seasons, and as a result did not come close to matching his total of games played.
In 2011, with Posada moving to become the full-time DH, he was in competition for the starting catching job with Russell Martin in spring training, but the Canadian won out and Cervelli played the season as a back-up, getting into 43 games and hitting .266 with 4 homers and 22 RBIs. In 2012, he fell down one more step, losing the back-up job to Chris Stewart and playing most of the year in AAA, getting into only three contests in the big leagues. In 2013, however, Martin left as a free agent and the Yankees did not attempt to sign a veteran starter to take his place, relying on Cervelli and Stewart instead. In the early going, Cervelli got most of the playing time, but it came crashing down on April 26th, when Rajai Davis of the Toronto Blue Jays hit a foul tip that went straight on his right hand, breaking a bone and putting him on the shelf for an extended period. He was hitting .269 with 3 homers at the time. While on the disabled list, Cervelli accepted a 50-game suspension resulting from MLB's investigation of the Biogenesis Laboratories on August 5th and did not play again. His season thus lasted for all of 17 games.
Cervelli was back with the Yankees at the start of the 2014 season, serving as a back-up to the newly signed Brian McCann. On April 13th, however, he suffered a severe hamstring injury while running the bases and had to go once more on the DL. On November 12th, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in return for P Justin Wilson. The Pirates were looking to add depth at catcher in expectation of not being able to re-sign starter Russell Martin. Cervelli became the starter for the Pirates in 2015 and played a career-high 130 games with excellent results. He hit.295 with 7 homers and 43 RBIs, but was even more valuable defensively as he was able to step into Martin's huge shoes and steer the Pirates' pitching staff to another good season, in which the posted the second-best record in the major leagues. He was behind the plate when the Pirates hosted the Chicago Cubs in the Wild Card Game on October 7th and went 1 for 3 with a hit-by-pitch in the 4-0 loss.
Cervelli was back starting for the Pirates in 2016 and played almost every day for the first six weeks. His hitting was a bit down, as he was at .257 with no home run after 49 games when he suffered a broken left hand on a swing on June 10th. The injury was expected to sideline him from six to eight weeks.
As a result of his earlier injury, Cervelli wears an oversized batting helmet designed to afford him more protection and reduce the risk of a future concussion.