Before 2009: Baker made his professional debut in 2008, after going undrafted after finishing out his college eligibility at Cincinnati after a stint at Daytona Beach Community College. He played primarily with the Yankees affiliate in the Gulf Coast League, but was summoned to High-A Tampa late in the year, where he got to play in two late-season games. Considered a player added for organizational depth, he collected just two hits in 20 at-bats between the GCL and Tampa Yankees.
2009: The 24-year-old Baker started the season with the Short Season-A Staten Island Yankees, where he actually played well despite limited playing time. Playing in just ten games with the team, including four starts in doubleheaders, Baker hit .241 with two home runs and six RBI.
In order not to retard the progress of some of the more highly regarded catchers at the lower levels of the system, Baker was summoned all the way to Double-A Trenton twice by the Yankees organization, and was used sparingly. He finished the season as a third, inactive catcher. Baker collected just 16 at-bats at the Double-A level, collecting his first two — and only — hits for the Thunder on August 24th against New Hampshire.
Similar to Walter Ibarra, who also did not play particularly well in Trenton after being skipped several levels, the experience of getting to catch and face Double-A pitching may prove to be invaluable as/if he progresses through the system.
After 2009: With the wealth of talent the Yankees organization has behind the plate, it’s hard to envision a starting role in the lower levels of the farm system for Baker. Will he join such luminaries as Eladio Rodriguez, J.T. LaFountain, Dan “I still can’t believe they let him catch Phil Hughes rehab start” Conway, Kevin Nelson and others to catch a handful of games for the Thunder and soon escape the minds of the Waterfront Park faithful? Or will he eventually come back and play a meaningful role on the ballclub? With his age, level of experience and organizational depth ahead of him, the odds seem to be against the latter.
If Baker returns to the Yankees organization for the 2010 season, he will likely play a backup role at one of the lower levels. He too may end up as a third catcher who goes up and down in order to fill a need as well.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com