Merrimack’s Mickey Gasper set for season as Yankees prospect

Courtesy photo Merrimack's Mickey Gasper is hoping for a big year with the Yankees Class A Charleston RiverDogs.

Baseball every day. A kid’s dream, for certain.

But a second-year professional ballplayer’s challenge.

It’s one that faces Merrimack’s Mickey Gasper as he prepares this week to begin his first full season in the New York Yankees system with the team he was promoted to at the end of last year, the Charleston (S.C.) Riverdogs. The ‘Dogs are the Yankees’ low Class A long season team. That’s long as in some 140 games, beginning Thursday at Columbia, S.C.

“It’s a full-season team, so it’ll give me a taste of 150 games,” Gasper said. “Playing from April to September, that’s pretty exciting.”

How will Gasper handle the every day, long season, something he really hasn’t had to deal with before? He’s played college ball then summer ball, but the sum hasn’t been more than 100 games or so, if that. And last year, after being drafted by the Yankees in the 27th round in early June, he played in some 37 games with the Yankees’ Rookie League team in Pulaski, Va.

“You know, I’m not really sure yet,” Gasper said. “I’ve heard this is the biggest year in professional baseball, getting used to that playing every day, going to the ballpark every day feel.

“I did that in summer ball (with the Silver Knights and Cape League), but that’s only 55-60 games. This is 140. It’s going to be a new experience for me. But I prepared for it in the off-season, so I’m up for the challenge.”

Gasper isn’t the only former Silver Knight in Charleston. Joining him as his roommate is infielder Max Burt. The Northeastern alum from North Andover, Mass., hit .274 with 11 doubles, three triples, and 21 RBIs in 56 games at Pulaski with an OPS of .713.

In rookie ball at Pulaski, Gasper hit .259 with nine homers, 30 RBIs and an OPS of .892. He also walked 30 times. He had one at-bat after being promoted to Charleston at the tail end of the season.

Hitting is the reason Gasper was drafted. But the Yankees want to find the former Bryant University catcher a position – and it may be catcher. He spent a lot of time in spring training behind the plate but also played some games at first base.

Go back a few months ago, however. Gasper worked out heavily at the Merrimack YMCA for a couple of months, but also at the Show Baseball Academy in Lawrence, Mass.

That’s key because the guy he worked out with was former Red Sox farmhand Steve Lomasney. Not only did Gaspr catch at Bryant, he was a catcher at Merrimack High School and with the Silver Knights. But he needed work at the position, and really didn’t have a position a year ago, but the Yankees said that was going to change. Lomasney was a big help.

“Definitely,” Gasper said. “It was fun working with him in the off season. … I wasn’t a catcher last year, but at the end of the summer they told me theere was a good chance I would get a shot to go back there. I’m back behind the plate, playing a little first, so I’m doing both.And that was one of my big focuses, being a better defensive receiver, blocker, and thrower.”

Gasper says it’s been the same for him throughout his career – good hitter, but where do you put him?

“I’ve been getting that my whole life,” Gasper said. “It doesn’t really bother me, so I use that as motivation, keep working to get better. Every year, I think I’ve gotten a little better at catching, and I’m starting to get a little bit better at first. Just trying to get better every day.”

In spring training, Gasper estimates he caught 80 percent of the games he played in and played first the other 20 percent.

“It went well,” he said. “I learned a lot of new things from catchers in the Yankees organization. It was a really fun experience joining the catching group with the Yankees. The catching coordinator (J.D. Closser) worked well with me, it was a lot of fun.”

The off-season work definitely paid off. But so did the work he did at a Cressey Sports Performance in Hudson, Mass., where he caught some top pitchers in more off-season workouts for about a month before spring training.

“Definitely,” he said. “The mechanical stuff was good, it helped. I think the most important thing was catching all those guys at Cressey. That’s just kind of forgetting about the mechanics and just trying to do your best receiving, trying not to look silly back there. Some of those guys have got some good stuff.

“I worked with some elite arms and it was a chance to get better at my catching and do some lifting.”

He also worked there on handling pitchers.

“It’s definitely been a little more difficult in professional baseball,” he said. “There’s a language barrier, being able to communicate with guys and multiple languages. But you know, it’s still a work in progress. The year’s young, I’m just trying to get better, trying to get better at the communication. But I think my game calling is where it needs to be.”

Of course, hitting has always been Gasper’s forte. The Yankees want him to continue to be a switch-hitter, but Silver Knight fans may recall he did his best damage from the left side of the plate.

“I worked on some things right-handed, and left-handed I’m trying to stay consistent, things I’ve always been doing,” he said. “I felt good, working with new hitting coordinator Dillon Lawson. It was a lot of fun.”

Gasper says he wants to keep switch-hitting.

“I’m definitely putting in a lot of work on the right side,” he said. “I’m not ready to give up on that yet.”

Gasper said he likes the old-time feel of Charleston and having Burt around with him certainly helps. “He’s my roommate still, was my roommate throughout spring training,” he said. “It’s honestly a blessing being with somebody I’ve known for this long, being part of the journey. It’s a lot easier to make adjustments,living in new places when he’s going through the same thing I am.”

Not bad to have two former Silver Knights on the same professional team.

“It’s pretty cool,” Gasper said. “It’s got to be good for Nashua, I’d say. Something we still talk about, the Silver Knights, playing for them. It’s cool.”

So is being able to say he’s a professional baseball player.

“Nothing better than that,” Gasper said. “I don’t know what else I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing baseball. I mean, it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I just hope I can get the opportunity to play for the Yankees and hopefully one day make it to the top.”

And with that, the journey continues with a very important leg.