VERSATILE MURPHY SWINGING BAT WELL FOR RIVERDOGS

               LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Just under two years ago, the Yankees liked the bat speed of a young catcher from Bradenton, Fla.

               Hearing the 5-foot-10, 175-pound J.R. Murphy might attend Miami, the Yankees offered him a $1.25 million bonus after they drafted him in the second round. At first glance, many asked why the team drafted another catcher.

                The 19-year-old Murphy, who could arrive at Waterfront Park in late 2012 or early 2013 is much more than a catcher. He played the outfield in his high-school days and, so far, has shown he can handle third base.

                “I love catching, no doubt about it,’’ Murphy said. “I’m also more than glad to play wherever they put me. I look at my versatility as a positive.  I took a lot of reps at third in spring training, and with Gary (Sanchez) here, I can see playing third a lot.

                “What I am working on now is getting used to the other positions.’’

               Murphy can still get behind the plate, call a solid game and contribute, as he did in Wednesday afternoon’s 6-2 victory over the BlueClaws, the Phillies’ South Atlantic League Class-A affiliate, in FirstEnergy Park.

               The righty swinger was 3-for-5 with a double and a pair of RBIs. He is hitting a solid .347 (25-for-72) in 17 Sally League games – 12th in the circuit – and has 16 RBIs, good for third place in the league. He is not surprised with his start.

               “I felt good at the plate in spring training, and I worked hard in the offseason. I’m feeling real comfortable right now and want to continue to produce.’’

                Murphy hit .255 (84-for-330) with seven homers and 54 RBIs in 84 games with Charleston in 2010, playing in a full-season league at 18. This season, he is starting to develop into the player the Yankees think he will become.

                If all goes well, Murphy, who certainly can play a corner outfield position as well, could become a player like Detroit’s Brandon Inge, who came through the Tigers system as primarily a catcher, but has played mostly third base and the outfield in majors.

               Inge is 5-foot-11, 190. The feeling is Murphy will grow a bit, add to his power numbers and perhaps outdo Inge in the average department.

                “I’m just looking to have a good offensive season and improve at all the positions they have me playing at,’’ said Murphy. “I want to continue to improve as the year goes on.’’

                 The fact Sanchez, rated by some with as much, if not more, potential offensively than Jesus Montero is a fellow RiverDog is of no consequence to Murphy.

                 “We really feed off each other,’’ he said. “There are things I can learn from Gary and other things I can show him. There’s no rivalry between us. It’s good that we have Victor (Valencia, who was a coach with the Thunder in 2010) here with us.

                  “Last year we didn’t really have a specific catching coach. With Victor we do, and it has been a great help to both of us.’’

                   Even if Murphy, who is batting .372 (16-for-43) in his last 10 games, with nine RBIs, is not catching a particular day, he still is not without work with baseball’s tools of ignorance.

                   Catching drills and instruction with Valencia are part of the everyday plan for both Sanchez and Murphy.

                   “Victor really balances us out,’’ said Murphy. “On a day when Gary’s catching, we both still do all our catching drills (along with third catcher Jeff Farnham) and work on the fundamentals we need.’’

                   Murphy is working on improving his footwork, both behind the plate and at the hot corner. His bat, as he has shown so far in the Sally League, is his top calling card. Yet, the ability to develop into a better-than-adequate defensive player at several positions is there.

                  “I can’t really worry about any other guy, or any of the catchers in our system,’’ he said. “All I can do is work to get better and more comfortable wherever they put me.’’

                  It’s hard to envision Murphy’s baseball future as anything but bright at this point.

***********************

                  BURAWA MAKES AN IMPRESSION:  Righty Dan Burawa came out of the RiverDogs bullpen Monday night vs. the BlueClaws throwing moving fastballs that hit 96 mph on the radar gun.

                  That’s something Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who was in attendance that evening and two other following games of Charleston’s five-day visit to South Jersey, was impressed with.

                  “It’s always nice to do something like that when the big guys are here,’’ said Burawa, a 6-fppt-3, 190-pound righty from St. John’s who is a favorite among many regional fans. 

                   Burawa, who is 1-2, 3.14 in six appearances and 14.1 innings, was a hard-luck 4-3 loser on an error Monday night. He pitched both the eighth and ninth innings.

                    “Right now, I’m throwing multiple innings in all my appearances,’’ said Burawa, 22. “I’m just getting used to that, as I haven’t thrown multiple innings in awhile. My arm is responding to it and, if that’s what the organization needs, that’s what I’ll certainly do.’’

                     In 2013, two key members of the Thunder bullpen could be Burawa and Chase Whitley, who is at Class-A Advanced Tampa.

                    “My parents can’t wait until I get to Trenton,’’ said Burawa, a native of Rocky Point, N.Y. “Even to drive to Lakewood was a few hours. If I’m in Trenton, my parents will come to every game.’’

                    That fastball, along with a slider and change he is developing, may get Burawa to Waterfront Park sooner rather than later.

***********************

                    FROM MAINE TO OHIO AND VIRGINIA: Portland outfielder Alex Hassan, who jumped from the Sally League to the EL, is proving he can handle the challenge so far with a league-leading .414 (24-for-58) average … Reading’s Cody Overbeck is the circuit’s RBI leader, with New Britain’s Ray Chang second at 16 and the Thunder’s Austin Romine third with 14 … Overbeck’s six homers also lead the EL … Righty Brad Holt has B-Mets fans excited with 0-0, 0.50 start. He has allowed just one earned run in three starts and 18 innings … Bowie’s Jose Diaz has recorded seven saves to pace that category.

                   BaseLines appears weekly on www.trentonthunder.com. Comments and suggestions are welcomed below, or at jed.weisberger3@gmail.com. Follow on Twitter @jedleyq

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