Bradenton's J.R. Murphy earning pinstripes with New York Yankees

Bradenton's Murphy looking to build major-league cameo into career as catcher for New York Yankees

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 18, 2014 

BRADENTON -- The answer to a baseball trivia question took some cuts during batting practice, walked behind home plate and leaned against the netting that serves as protection for the fans sitting in the best seats at McKechnie Field.

Then John Ryan Murphy tried to put into perspective last September at Yankee Stadium, where the Bradenton native and IMG Academy product became the last man to catch a pitch from Mariano Rivera in a major-league game.

It was Sept. 26 at Yankee Stadium. Rivera retired Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar on an infield popout before Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte came out of the dugout to remove him. As an emotional Rivera embraced his longtime New York teammates, there was Murphy, the Yankees' starting catcher that night.

Rivera, who announced his retirement prior to last season, never pitched again.

"I don't understand, and maybe I'll never understand, the magnitude of all that," Murphy said Monday before rain washed away the Yankees' Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. "I think I can play 15, 20 years, and that would probably be the best thing I get to be a part of, just because of everything Mo's done for the game and organization; just to see how well-respected he is amongst his teammates and other teams and players and coaches, getting to be a part of one of the biggest moments of his career was special."

Crafting a special career

himself is the next goal for Murphy, a 2009 second-round pick of the Yankees who made his big-league debut last season. Though he hit .154, Murphy sparkled behind the plate, throwing out three of six attempted runners stealing while not being charged with an error or passed ball in 70 2/3 innings.

It was a gratifying stint for Murphy, 22, who always envisioned himself a catcher even while the Yankees gave him a brief audition as a third basemen in the minors.

"That's really been my main focus since day one in 2009 when I signed," said Murphy, who chose the Yankees over a scholarship from Miami. "They made it clear that's what they wanted me to focus on. Being here with Tony (Pena, the Yankees bench coach and a former catcher) and Joe (Girardi, the Yankees manager and another former catcher), those guys are catching guys. They make it very clear that should be the number one goal and number one focus.

"I focus most of my time and energy on that. I've made big strides on that, and last year was a good showing of that, I think. Hitting just kind of takes care of itself. It's not that I don't worry about that or don't focus on that, but catching takes up the majority of my time."

Murphy's cameo in the Bronx last year didn't go unnoticed by the Yankees brass.

"Murphy is considered not just by us, by teams who have called about him, an everyday catcher in the big leagues," general manager Brian Cashman told ESPN New York. "A future everyday catcher in the big leagues. He'd been a great defender and now his bat has finally come around."

Though this isn't Murphy's first spring in big-league camp, this is the first time he has a shot to make the team out of spring training. The Yankees signed starting catcher Brian McCann in the offseason but dealt back-up Chris Stewart to the Pirates, leaving Murphy, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli to battle for the job.

"I'm definitely here to stay, in my mind," Murphy said. "All I can control, though, is how I do my job every day and how I go about my business. I'll put my work in every day, and at the end of spring, they'll make their decision. Whatever that is, it's going to be for the best for the team. If that's me, then that's great. If not, I'll keep working and show them I can be up here soon."

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