The Yankees have announced five roster moves prior to today’s doubleheader with the Rays. Catcher Erik Kratz joins the active roster after signing a Major League contract with the team, and Kratz will take the place of catcher Kyle Higashioka, who is headed to the 10-day injured list (retroactive to August 6) due to a right oblique strain. The Yankees also brought up infielder Thairo Estrada from their alternate training camp and named righty Albert Abreu as their extra 29th man for the double-header. Right-hander Nick Tropeano has also been designated for assignment to create roster space for Estrada.
Given that even minor oblique injuries usually take a couple of weeks of recovery time, Higashioka could potentially be in danger of missing the rest of the 2020 season if he has suffered anything beyond a low-level strain. Any sort of IL stint is a tough blow to Higashioka, who was slated for a larger role as New York’s backup catcher behind Gary Sanchez when Austin Romine departed for the Tigers in the offseason.
Higashioka’s absence opens the door for Kratz to play in his 11th MLB season. The veteran signed another minors deal with the Yankees over the offseason, his third such deal in less than three years’ time, though Kratz’s total official tenure in the pinstripes consists of only four games in 2017. Mostly working as a part-timer throughout his career, Kratz will back up Sanchez as New York is now suddenly rather short at catcher if Higashioka is indeed facing a lengthy absence. Josh Thole and Max McDowell are the other catching options within the 60-man player pool, as Chris Iannetta was placed on the restricted list yesterday and could be retiring.
It wasn’t long ago that Abreu was one of the most intriguing prospects in baseball, drawing top-100 attention prior to the 2017 season and even a placement in the 100th position on Baseball Prospectus minor league rankings before the 2018 season. Coming from the Astros as part of the November 2016 trade that sent Brian McCann to Houston, Abreu has yet to truly distinguish himself over three seasons in New York’s farm system, with injuries also hampering his progress. Abreu has a 3.77 ERA, 2.11 K/BB rate, and 9.1 K/9 over 439 minor league frames, though none above the Double-A level.
MLB.com’s scouting report says “all three of Abreu’s pitches can grade as well above average,” as his repertoire includes an upper-90s fastball, a “power slurve,” and an interesting changeup. Depending on his health, Abreu’s future could be in the bullpen rather than in the starting rotation, and the Yankees are likely to use him as a reliever in his first taste of Major League action. It also isn’t certain if Abreu could just be getting a cup of coffee due to the expanded doubleheader roster, or if the Yankees have an eye towards seeing if he can contribute in a larger role throughout the season.
Tropeano’s contract was only selected on Thursday, so his tenure with the Bronx Bombers could possibly end without ever appearing in an official game. Tropeano signed a minor league deal back in January, coming to New York in the wake of a rough 2019 that saw him post a 9.88 over 13 2/3 IP with the Angels and also struggle significantly at Triple-A ball.