Kyle Higashioka

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Kyle Harris Higashioka

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Biographical Information[edit]

Catcher Kyle Higashikoa made his major league debut by catching the final inning of the New York Yankees' home opener on April 10, 2017. He had just been called up a day before when regular catcher Gary Sanchez had been placed on the disabled list. He went 0 for 18 in 9 games that year, then was also retired in his first four at-bats of 2018 before he went deep off David Price of the Boston Red Sox on July 1st for his first major league hit. That homer was one of six by Yankees hitters, including three by Aaron Hicks, as New York won, 11-1. He had been called up a few days earlier when Sanchez had been placed on the disabled list, and it was just his second start that year. His next two hits were homers as well, and he joined Alfonso Soriano as the only other player in Yankees history to have his first three big league hits be long balls. He was also only the 9th player in history to do so, and the first since Trevor Story, who started his career with four dingers in 2016. He finished the season at .167 in 29 games, with the 3 homers and 6 RBIs.

In 2019, he spent the bulk of the season in AAA with Austin Romine backing up Sanchez in New York, although he came up for a spell when Sanchez was on the injured list. He hit .214 in 18 games, with another 3 homers and 11 RBIs. In 2020, with Romine gone, he was Sanchez's main back-up, sharing these duties with veteran Erik Kratz, the two seeing regular work as Sanchez was mired in a deep slump. On September 16th, he had a dream game as he hit three homers in an 11-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays, for the Yankees' seventh straight win. He became ace Gerrit Cole's designated catcher during the last part of the season and the two worked extremely well together, the arrangement continuing in the postseason. He hit .250 in 16 games, with 4 homer and 10 RBIs for an OPS+ of 107. In the postseason, he started Game 1 of the Wild Card Series against the Cleveland Indians with Cole on the mound, going 1 for 5, then was 4 for 13 in the Division Series' loss to the Tampa Bay Rays, hitting a homer.

There was a lot of discussion about what the Yankees should do with their catching situation before the 2021 season, with many thinking that Higashioka should be the starter given Gary Sanchez's chronic defensive problems and inconsistent hitting in spite of his tremendous power. This could possibly have been envisaged had the Yankees not committed a huge amount of money to DH Giancarlo Stanton, as this could have been a way to keep Sanchez's bat in the line-up while minimizing his negative defensive impact, but that not being possible, the Yankees re-committed to Sanchez. He was behind the plate on Opening Day even though Cole was starting, but with Cole's next start, Higashioka was back as his designated catcher and guided him to an excellent performance. On April 12th, again catching Cole, he victimized the Blue Jays for the second time when he homered twice and drove in all three runs in a 3-1 win, demonstrating that he was not only excellent defensively, but that his bat was not to be dismissed. He played a career-high 67 games that season, batting .181 with 10 homers and 20 RBIs. He also started the Wild Card Game with Cole on the mound, but went 0 for 2, striking out in both of his at-bats, as the Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox.

Before the 2022 season, the Yankees traded Sanchez to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that netted them two key players in 3B Josh Donaldson and SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa. While they also acquired C Ben Rortvedt in the deal, it made Kyle the undisputed starter, even after Rortvedt was injured and they dealt for another catcher, Jose Trevino, just before the start of the season. Higashioka played well on defence during the first two months and the Yankees had the best record in the majors, but he was not producing anything with the bat. When Trevino, also not known for his bat, began to outproduce him significantly starting in late May, his role as the main catcher was threatened. He finally hit his first two homers of the season on June 12th, in an 18-4 demolition of the Chicago Cubs. The second of these came against position player Frank Schwindel in the 9th inning, and he had the distinction of teeing off the slowest pitch ever measured by Statcast, a high lob timed at 35.1 mph more reminiscent of a slow-pitch softball game than a competitive major league contest. He finished the season at .227 in 83 games, with 10 homers and 31 RBIs in what was his busiest season to date. In the postseason, Trevino got the bulk of the work as he only went to bat six times in two round, without collecting a hit.

On June 28, 2023, he was behind the plate when Domingo Germán pitched the 24th perfect game in major league history, an 11-0 win over the Oakland Athletics. He was also the catcher in the team's previous no-hitter, thrown by Corey Kluber on May 19, 2021. Trevino was lost for the season early on, which meant that Kyle was the regular by default, appearing in 92 games and hitting .236 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs. Those numbers were very similar to the year before, as his OPS+ was 85 after coming in at 83 in 2022. The Yankees figured that it was all he could give, and while Rortvedt failed to hit much when he was finally able to play in pinstripes after Trevino went down, rookie Austin Wells, a September call-up, showed a lot more potential and made Kyle expendable with Trevino expected to be back in full health the following season. This explains while he was included in the blockbuster trade that landed the Yankees OF Juan Soto on December 6th, alongside Trent Grisham; Higashioka was one of five players headed in the opposite direction, to the San Diego Padres.

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bryan Hoch: "Higgy homers off Schwindel's historically slow pitch", mlb.com, June 12, 2022. [1]

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