Jorge Posada.

While replacing your everyday catcher of the last decade plus is an unenviable task, the Yankees are well equipped to attempt it, having arguably the best minor league catching depth of any team.

To refresh our memories, “Right Now,” would ideally be able to fill in this year or the next should a significant injury affect Jorge; “Later,” is probably our best option 2-3 years down the road and the “Much Later,” is just that (roughly 4 years). The players are all relatively young with little to no service time and the article doesn’t deal with trade scenarios or free agent options.

Right Now: Francisco Cervelli

Let me preface this entry by saying that Cervelli supplanting Jorge would be, ahem, less than optimal. He is well below average offensively which makes him, on the Yankees, a backup catcher at best. Should a scenario like this ever come to pass, the Yankees would most likely try to swing a trade similar to the ’08 Ivan Rodriguez acquisition: a veteran defensive minded catcher who isn’t a complete black hole in the lineup. Though, if the Yankees are willing to slum it a bit on defense they can roll the dice and go with…

Dark Horse Right Now: Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero’s offensive prowess has been expounded upon countless times, and we all know it’s his defense that will determine whether he can catch in the majors. Most people think he won’t be able to due to his lack of athleticism and current size. This is further compounded when he’s projected to keep growing, further limiting his mobility behind the plate. But who knows? Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he takes a Pilates class and limbers up (I’d pay for the video of that).

I’d take “rival scouts” opinions of Montero’s defense with a grain of salt. They don’t see him as much as the Yankee brass does and they have a vested interest in de-valuing other team’s prospects as leverage for potential trades. This isn’t to say his luckluster defense is all heresay. But he has made strides in his work behind the plate. In our interview with Brian Cashman, the Yankees’ GM did rave about his arm strength and blocking ability. However, because of his size, it takes him too long to release the ball.

A lot of things would have to resolve themselves favorably for Jesus to be the successor to Jorge. If the Yankees have Montero catching regularly at all next year, they’re either supremely confident in his ability to handle everything, or extremely desperate. The Yankees have made some hasty decisions regarding their top prospects in recent memory, sacrificing long-term development for immediate gains (See: Chamberlain, Joba, 2007).

Later: Austin Romine

Austin Romine is without a doubt the Yankees’ strongest candidate to take over the catching duties at some point in the near future. Already a rock solid receiver, he’s also proven himself capable with the bat. While his average dropped a bit this last year (.300 to .276), he offset that by improving upon his power numbers (.135 to .165 ISO). Surprisingly, he’s show above-average speed for a backstop racking up 11 steals this last year.

Virtually every part of Romine’s game is above average for his position, and it’s uncommon to find such a diverse skill set in a backstop. The one area he is lacking in is his approach. Improving upon his currently pedestrian plate discipline (5.9 BB%) would make him virtually flawless.

This isn’t to say that he’s a lock to be the Yankees’ catcher. He still needs to prove he can repeat his success at the upper levels of the farm system. This coming year in Trenton will probably tell us whether he’s the catcher of the future or not.

Much Later: Kyle Higashioka, John Murphy and Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez has as high a ceiling as anyone in the Yankees’ farm system (just ask his 3 million dollar signing bonus). Unfortunately, he is also as far from contributing as anyone else in the system. That will happen when you’re 16 years old. Should he even approach his reported potential, he’d easily be the best option in this group, but he’s got a ton of work to do between now and that day (should it ever come).

John Ryan Murphy (2nd round, ’09 draft) has a nice bat and good approach for a young player, but we have to see how he takes to catching full time after just recently moving behind the plate from the outfield. If Murphy struggles with his defense, or if the Yankee braintrust thinks his defensive duties are retarding his growth, there’s always the chance they decide to move him back. It would probably have to get pretty bad for that to happen, but we can’t rule it out. John certainly didn’t disappoint in his limited GCL time last year, putting up good numbers (.890 OPS), albeit in an extremely small sample.

Kyle Higashioka (7th round, ’08 draft) has had two uninspiring seasons with the Yankees, but has made some strides with his plate discipline (10.5% BB, 14.3% K in 2009) and is still putting all his tools together. He projects to play above-average defense, but right now the outlook on his bat is questionable at best. If he makes strides in this area, he’d quickly improve his stock.

Projecting players, only one of which has had a professional season (Higashioka at Staten Island) is an inherently risky proposition. The guys with the biggest upside (Sanchez and Murphy) need to prove themselves, while the guy with the most reliable resume needs to make some pretty big improvements to present himself as a legitimate option. Logic says Higashioka’s probable MLB-caliber defense makes him the frontrunner, but if I had to gamble, I’d go with Murphy. His athleticism is going to ease his translation to full-time catching and obviously help him work hone his projectable bat.

There are a lot of players on display here because most of them won’t pan out. In collecting a group of diverse, talented backstops the Yankees are maximizing their chances of developing someone who might one day contribute at a valuable position or in a trade. You build depth for a multitude of reasons and there’s really no such thing as having “too many” catchers in your system.

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Who will inherit Posada’s secrets to baseball success?

*Props to Louis Winthorpe III for also contributing to this post