Trenton catcher J.R. Murphy has made significant strides behind the plate this season (Photo: Trenton Thunder/Facebook.com)
J.R. Murphy is one of the most overlooked prospects not only in the Yankees farm system, but in all of baseball. A 22-year-old from Bradenton, Florida, Murphy was the team’s second-round draft choice in 2008. Ever since that point, he has been overshadowed by bigger names such as Jesus Montero, Austin Romine, and now, Gary Sanchez.
Despite being frequently overshadowed by other top prospects, Murphy has quietly gone about improving all aspects of his game. He entered the 2013 season ranked as Baseball America’s 15th best Yankees prospect, though his play this year certainly warrants consideration for a spot in the organizational “Top 10.”
Prior to Sunday’s game, I spoke to Murphy and his manager, Tony Franklin, who has had the chance to observe Murphy on the field in both 2012 and 2013. The transcripts of the conversations can be found below, while my feature article on Murphy can be found here.
Franklin on J.R. Murphy
DP: J.R. Murphy has hit safely in nine of his last eleven (games). What have you seen during that stretch that has been different from earlier in the year?
TF: Same Murph. Nothing really. He’s been pretty steady all year. Murph has a tendency, or an ability, to play in the moment. You don’t know it, but when you need a big hit, he’s in the middle of it. He’s got extra-base power. I’m not surprised. I really didn’t know he had a nine-game hitting streak. I go from day-to-day.
DP: He’s hit safely in nine-of-eleven.
TF: Oh. Okay. That’s just as good. But, I’m not surprised at that. Hitters find ways to get hits, whether it be jammed shots over the infielder’s head, or dribblers in the hole, things of that nature. They find a way to get hits. Why? I don’t know. Maybe it is because of their swing path.
DP: What’s your thoughts on Murphy’s defense so far this year? It seems like it has been much improved.
TF: (It is) Greatly improved, particularly in the area of blocking baseballs. He has spent a lot of time with (Trenton Thunder Dorante working on recognizing the fact that…and he’s got such great hands that he has a tendency to pick balls and it kinda gets him in trouble sometimes, in trouble from time to time where he may miss one and it goes to the backstop. Major league catchers don’t let balls go to the backstop, so they went out and they worked on blocking balls and caressing balls and having balls fall in front of them, which he’s done very well. So, over the last two weeks he’s been greatly improved.
DP: Murphy came up last year, and it seemed like, and again, I know you’re going to tell me don’t look at the numbers, but it seemed as if he was struggling a bit at the plate sometimes based on the numbers. Do you see any difference in his approach (at the plate) from last year to this year?
TF: (laughing) Don’t do that. I’ve told you not to do that. This is a level where pitchers start to pitch you backwards. In other words, you’re starting to get breaking balls in fastball counts and you’ll see a lot of young hitters expect a fastball and swing. That’s why when guys swing and miss they miss by so much, because it’s so predetermined to swing and you’re expecting your pitch. Murph has learned how to adapt and adjust to the fact that this could be a breaking pitch, could be something off-speed, let me wait and see where this ball is going to go. I don’t think anyone here has the ability to throw the ball by him, but all good hitters do that. His general knowledge of how guys are going to pitch at this level has been a big plus for him. His ability to put a bat on the ball, that’s easy. All of them have the ability to put the bat on the ball, but do they have the ability to know what the pitcher’s trying to do to them? That’s, I think, where Murph has excelled. He was a little bit different last year, basically a fastball hitter, but now, taking walks, good hitters do take walks. So, (OPS, on-base percentage) starts to increase and you start to get favorable pitches in hitter’s counts.
J.R. Murphy Interview
DP: I mentioned to (Trenton Thunder manager) Tony (Franklin) that between this year and last year, there seems to be a big difference (in your defense). What did you do differently to improve behind the plate?
JR: Yeah, I think a big part of it is spring training. Getting to work with all the big-league guys, and also, just any time you get to work on your craft like that on a daily basis in spring training. It’s really just repetition. I think that in time, the more you catch and the more games you catch, it’s going to come, and I think I’m getting better. But, I’d have to say, a lot of it was spring training.
DP: Did you work with anybody in particular down there to work on defense?
JR: On the physical side of the stuff, yeah, Tony Pena. He’s the main guy in spring training, and you know, Girardi’s always in there too. Mentally, I talked to Bobby Wilson a lot, and Chris Stewart and Cervelli and those guys really helped me learn about the mental side of the game, the pitching staffs, and stuff like that.
DP: I also mentioned to Tony, last year you were down here, the average was a little bit low, but at the plate you seemed like you were doing alright at the plate. This year though, there has definitely been a noticed improvement. Tony mentioned pitchers start pitching you backwards at this level. Has being behind the plate and working with the pitchers helped you to adjust at the plate as well?
JR: Yeah, definitely. I think there’s going to be an adjustment level at any level you move up to, so, last year I did okay, I survived. I got my feet wet last year, and this year I’m definitely a lot more comfortable. I think that’s helped me. But also, yeah, I think being a catcher, when you’re up there hitting, you’re kind of not necessarily guessing, but you think along with what their catcher is thinking and you get to learn sequences and stuff like that, so I think all of that is helping me offensively.
DP: Was there anything you had to change at the plate in terms of mechanics at the plate this offseason?
JR: No, absolutely not. Haven’t changed anything really.
DP: Earlier this year, you hit your way into the record book with the three home-run game. What does something like that do from a confidence standpoint? Is that something where you feel it pushes you forward?
JR: Yeah, you know, that’s one thing I worked on in the weight room this offseason was to hit for a little bit more power. I may be the first guy ever to hit three home runs in a game and not hit one for the rest of the season, it’s been a while since I hit a home run. I haven’t hit one since then.
DP: I was looking at the game notes ahead of time and realized you’ve hit safely in nine of your last eleven. From a confidence aspect, is this something where it could propel you forward for the rest of the year?
JR: Yeah, I mean, you’ve gotta take the highs when they come and the lows when they come, because it’s kind of a roller coaster, so you’ve gotta figure out how to maintain your mentality (and stay) levelheaded the whole season. You’re going to have ups like this, like I’m having now, and I’m sure I’m going to struggle at some point, so (I) just have to figure out how to do both.
DP: Last year you came up with a couple other guys as well, did it help to really be able to come up with a few guys you had played with in Tampa at the same time?
JR: Yeah, it’s a lot nicer in the clubhouse, getting your feet wet and getting a feel for things when you know some of the guys around you. This year’s more of the same, you know, we have a lot of guys that have played together for the last few years. I think that really helps.
DP: When you work with the pitchers, you’re seeing anywhere from 12-15 different pitchers over the course of a few weeks. Is this something where you need to focus on what’s best for them, you know, does stuff such as weather affect how you call your games?
JR: Somewhat, yeah. Every park is different, every day is different depending on the wind and climate and stuff like that. Really you just try not to ask pitchers to do something they can’t do, so just stick to their strengths and know what they do best and stick to it.
DP: So you focus on the strengths of the pitchers more so than the weakness of the batter?
JR: For the most part, yeah. You don’t want to ask the pitcher to do something they can’t necessarily do consistently. When in doubt, you just go with the pitcher’s strengths.
DP: Tony (Franklin) mentioned that you’re one of those guys that lives to play in clutch situations. Do you enjoy the pressure-packed situations more so than your average at-bat?
JR: I guess, yeah. I think you gotta approach each at-bat as the same. You can’t get really too high when the game is on the line.
DP: That’s where I was going with it. You don’t change your approach at all?
JR: Nope. You can’t, because as soon as you start pressing, you’re going to probably mess it up.