It’s been a long road for Gary Sanchez. His earliest entry in the BP annals dates all the way back to 2011, when he was ranked the 29th best prospect in the game. Between then and now, Sanchez fell in and out of favor many times over. The right-handed power never wavered, but concerns about his work ethic ability to stay behind the plate always followed him. The specter of Jesus Montero hangs over him like a bad sign he was born under. The last time the Yankees had a highly-rated catching prospect with lots of power, questionable defensive skills and athleticism concerns, he was punted to the Mariners and that was that.
Sanchez will look to buck that trend. His second stint in the big leagues will begin on Friday.
Somehow still just 23-years-old, he will join the Yankees as they stare down some of the best left-handed pitching in the league. The White Sox are in town, and their charge into the Bronx will be led by Chris Sale and Jose Quintana. Both rank inside the top 2o in pitcher WARP so far this year and have a combined 12-1 record. The Yankees have struggled mightily against left-handers this season (.685 OPS) and seemingly for all of eternity. Sanchez will be asked to help the team against the best that baseball has to offer.
It remains to be seen just how Sanchez will fit into the roster, and whether he will be in New York for more than a handful of games. He has little left to prove at Triple-A, yet unless Austin Romine is cut loose to make room, he will be the third catcher on the roster. He could theoretically see time at DH, but that would force Carlos Beltran into the field.
Or, he could catch. Sanchez’s bad defensive reputation behind the plate may be somewhat undeserved. His excellent arm has always been a threat to potential base-stealers, and now BP’s new catching metrics have cast a surprisingly bright light on his receiving. As Jeffery Paternostro wrote in January, it seems that Sanchez has made himself an above-average defender. There will still be occasional blunders and mental mistakes, but Sanchez is no longer the disaster he once was. If the bat comes along like many think it can, Sanchez could turn out to be one of the better catchers in baseball.
Yet, as we’ve come to realize far too often, prospects will break your heart. Could Sanchez blossom into an elite catcher? Perhaps, but the bat will always be his carrying tool. More likely, though, is that Sanchez sticks behind the plate for a small span of time before being moved to first base or DH. As in all matters, time will tell.
Sanchez is still seeking his first big-league hit. He went 0-2 in the sprinkle of playing time he enjoyed last September. The Yankees have given him the seemingly impossible task of dealing with Sale and Quintana to earn that very first hit. It is not an assignment that they would have given him if they did not believe he was even slightly up to the challenge.
It’s been a long time coming for Sanchez. He may have to wait just a while longer for a full shot at glory in the Bronx. Friday will be just the latest step in a hard slog to the big leagues for a man who, despite being a source of hope and frustration for what seems like a lifetime, is still just 23 years old. Time is on Gary Sanchez’s side. For now, he has arrived once again, with his eyes set on the left field seats, the right-handed batter’s box, the magic coming out of Chris Sale’s hand, and the dirt behind home plate. Even if he is demoted once he’s served his possibly brief purposes, he will be back. The long road is almost at its end.
Photo: Mark J. Rebilas / USA Today Sports