2016 served as a breakout campaign of sorts in the minor league ranks for the 26-year-old Kyle Higashioka. The catcher was limited to a total of 24 games between 2013 and 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and he was slow to shake off the rust after that, but he found his stroke to the tune of 21 home runs, 81 RBI and a combined .276/.337/.511 slash line across both Double-A and Triple-A this year. Though he's always projected as a good power hitter, it's difficult to determine how much stock should be put into his 2016 season, as he floundered at the lower levels of the minors in the early parts of his career. Additionally, a sudden and sustained emergence like this is uncommon for someone who will turn 27 in the first month of the 2017 season. Higashioka was added to the 40-man roster for Rule 5 protection, and will compete with Austin Romine for the honor of backing up Gary Sanchez.
Higashioka is 5-for-10 with a pair of home runs through eight spring training appearances. Previously a fairly unheralded prospect, Higashioka had a breakout season in 2016, as he mashed 21 home runs and hit .276 (up from a .242 career average) across Double-A and Triple-A and was ultimately added to the 40-man roster after the season. Even following the offseason trade of Brian McCann, Higashioka still faces a tall task to win the backup catcher job on the parent club over Austin Romine, but if he continues to hit at this pace he'll force the Yankees brass to take notice.
The Yankees optioned pitcher Bryan Mitchell and outfielder Ramon Flores to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Sunday while reassigning eight players to minor-league camp. Mitchell allowed six earned runs in 7 1/3 innings this spring. Flores hit .206/.270/.412 with two home runs in 34 spring at-bats. In addition to the options, the Yankees reassigned catchers Francisco Arcia and Kyle Higashioka, infielders Cole Figueroa and Jonathan Galvez, outfielder Slade Heathcott and pitchers Kyle Davies, Jacob Lindgren and Nick Rumbelow to minor-league camp.
The New York Yankees made their first roster cuts of the spring and moved the following players to their minor-league camp: Corban Joseph, Melky Mesa (Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre), David Adams, Zoilo Almonte (Double-A Trenton), Manuel Banuelos, Daniel Burawa, Brett Marshall, Adam Miller, Ryan Pope, Graham Stoneburner, Chase Whitley, Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka, and J.R. Murphy.