Part 20 in a series analyzing the New York Yankees.
There are some who look at Gary Sanchez and borrow from Peggy Lee’s hit song in 1969, “Is That All There Is”?
Others, mesmerized by the catcher’s right-handed power, believe there is more to come from a bat that at times resembles Manny Ramirez’s. And anybody who saw it live last year in San Francisco, where Sanchez crushed a ball 481 feet to left, can’t doubt the power is legitimate.
So, who is Sanchez? And where does the 27-year-old fit in the Yankees’ future? Regardless if there are games or not in this COVID-19 affected season, Sanchez will be arbitration eligible for the second time this coming offseason when he was set to make $5 million. That means after the 2022 season, Sanchez will qualify for free agency.
With close to 1,400 big league at-bats in three-plus years, it is clear Sanchez isn’t the hitter he was in 53 games in 2016 — when he dropped jaws by hitting .299 with 20 homers, 42 RBIs and a sick 1.032 OPS to finish second in the AL Rookie of the Year race. But who could be?
In 317 games after 2016, Sanchez has hit .238 with 85 homers, 220 RBIs and posted a .815 OPS. That is averaging 28 homers and 73 RBIs for three seasons, which carries weight for a catcher who has been an All-Star twice in three full big league seasons.
Yet, are they enough to make up for Sanchez’s defense? Aaron Boone believes Sanchez can improve based on his work habits. He has an above-average throwing arm, but that is compromised somewhat at times by erratic foot work. He calls a solid game, but his ball-blocking skills are below average. Two years ago he led the majors in passed balls with 18 but cut that to seven in 2019.
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With the hiring of Tanner Swanson, who replaced Jason Brown as the catching instructor, Sanchez spent the shortened spring training working on getting lower in his crouch to better frame pitches and looked awkward at best in a small sample size.
And he was limited by a back ailment and then the flu.
Since replacing Brian McCann as the regular catcher in 2017, Sanchez has been on the injured list at least once every season and twice in 2018 and 2019. Following the 2018 season, Sanchez had surgery on his left shoulder.
Four of the five IL stints in the past three seasons have been lower body problems. With Austin Romine backing up Sanchez, the Yankees improved defensively, but when Romine signed a one-year deal for $4.1 million with the Tigers last December, the Yankees turned to Kyle Higashioka to be their No. 2 catcher.
Romine’s money is out of bounds for a backup, but it wasn’t the only reason Higashioka, 29, was going to make his first Opening Day big league roster on March 26. He has impressed organizational decision makers with his defense, pitch calling and recent minor league power numbers. The right-handed hitter swatted 20 homers in 70 games for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year.
However, he has appeared in just 56 big-league games in parts of the past three seasons. An .164 average in the majors appears to be alarming, but the seventh-round pick in 2008 draft has received spotty playing time behind Romine when Sanchez has been out. Sanchez’s track record indicates he won’t go a full season without a visit to the IL, so Higashioka will get more regular playing time should that happen.
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