BRIDGEWATER – Here comes the fighter.
If you didn’t know any better, you might think Mickey Gasper was a boxer; The 26-year-old Merrimack, New Hampshire native certainly has the look, a chiseled chin covered with dark stubble making him reminiscent of someone who likes to throw hands for a living.
Instead, he simply throws guys out.
But that’s not to say that the Somerset Patriots catcher hasn’t had to battle for everything he’s got in a different way, however. Taken in a round of the draft that no longer exists as a senior out of a smaller school, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound Gasper has had to earn everything along the way.
Never the easy road.
Never considered a prospect.
And that’s OK with him.
“It’s just going out and proving yourself every day,” said Gasper, selected by the New York Yankees in the 27th round out of Bryant University in 2018.
“If you get that prospect recognition, you get that prospect recognition, but it’s about the team’s valuing you and going out and getting the chance to go out and play every day. So, I try not to look at that stuff. It’s fun to see your buddies getting a lot of hype on social media, but it’s not something to be jealous about or have vanity for. It’s about going out every day, competing and enjoying the game we get to play.”
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A quick glance at the back of his baseball card would show Gasper has been enjoyable to watch thus far for Somerset. Entering the final games of the series against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, he’s hitting .387 with two doubles, three RBI and six walks compared to just six strikeouts.
Yet, he’s remained under the radar.
And that’s OK with him too.
“I think I’ve always been a little under the radar, so I’d say it’s definitely part of me,” he said. “I wasn’t too highly recruited out of high school, and I was a senior sign out of college. So, I’ve always had to earn every opportunity I’ve got at all levels, and always had to kind of separate myself with my play on the field. I let my play do the talking. I’ve embraced it, for sure.”
Another way Gasper has tried to distance himself from the rest of the pack? Work ethic. He’s earned the respect of the clubhouse with seemingly tireless early work before games, as well as an unfailingly positive attitude despite an uphill battle for consistent playing time.
“There’s a Willie Mays quote I really like, ‘In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport,'” Gasper said.
“I think there’s no better job in the world than playing baseball and getting to come out here in Somerset, New Jersey. I guess there would be two better jobs in the Yankees organization – going to Scranton and then going to the Bronx – but right now, I’m trying to be in the present, and there’s no better place in the world to be.
“I get to play baseball for a living. So, why wouldn’t I come out here and give it everything I’ve got and work hard. I love being out on the field, and (defensive coach) Aaron Bossi is always available and pushing me and giving me advice. I’m always ready to get after it, but I’m trying to take advantage of every opportunity I have with this great organization.”
Gasper was one of several catchers the Yankees selected in that year’s draft – Anthony Seigler and current teammate Josh Breaux were their first two picks in 2018 – and has carried a chip on his shoulder ever since being taken as late as he was, viewed as little more organizational than depth at the time.
Every moment since has been spent trying to outplay and outwork that outlook.
“If you get five million dollars or five thousand dollars, you’re trying to show your worth,” he said. “I’ve always played with a little chip on my shoulder, but I think that’s how you have to play baseball. Maybe that’s just growing up and watching my dad coach basketball and him being very passionate and being into the game. He was an intense guy. That’s how I like to be, I like to be in it. Some people like to call it in a chip on your shoulder, some people say that’s just how you play.”
With a significant amount of premium catching talent in the organization – High-A Hudson Valley catcher Austin Wells, Breaux and Low-A Tampa catcher Antonio Gomez all entered the season as Top 30 prospects in the Yankees system according to Baseball America – Gasper was looking to show more of his versatility this year, with the organization going so far as to change where he’d been listed on the roster, moving him from catcher to infielder prior to the start of the season.
“I took a lot of reps this spring behind the plate,” he said. “I have first base in repertoire, but I was mostly behind the plate. I think that’s how the Yankees found a spot for me here, getting me here as an infielder. Right now, I’d say I’m catching a little more out of necessity … if we get some guys coming back, maybe I’ll head over to first, but it’s been trying to show my versatility to show I can do both and find my way into the lineup.”
The team’s Opening Day backup catcher, Rodolfo Duran, was just activated off the Injured List on Thursday, and Breaux, the Opening Day starter, likely isn’t far behind. That versatility – the majority of Gasper’s pro experience has actually come at first base, although he hasn’t played the position since 2019, not to mention he’s a handful of games in the outfield in college – may very well come in handy sooner rather than later.
“For a guy like me, where my bat is what keeps me in the lineup, it helps being able to go to a different spot so we can slot in somebody else where the matchup is better,” Gasper said. “(This stretch playing behind the plate) means everything to me. Josh is one of my best friends in my life, so it hurts me seeing him be down, and I can’t wait for him to get back. But, if I’m in the lineup, I’ve got to go out and compete. I can’t think about when somebody might be coming back or how the IL is going to shake things up.
“I can’t wait for him to be healthy and watch him swing it and catch it and come back out here and compete with me. But I want to just keep trying to help my team win as best I can when my name’s in the lineup, and even when I’m not in the lineup.”
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: New York Yankees: Somerset Patriots catcher making waves at Double-A