I’ve seen Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez as much as any other prospect this season and while I have a good feel for what he can do, I’m still not certain what he’ll become. I saw him in spring training, at Lo-A Charleston, at Hi-A Tampa and again recently in instructs; he’s shown the same tools each time but has also been making some adjustments, mostly at the plate.
Sanchez has a number of things that command your attention: a $3 million bonus at age 16, present 70 raw power to all fields and a 65 arm. He’s still just 19 and these kinds of tools and accomplishments as a teenager put him in rarified territory. The list of players who have that resume is littered with stars and even Hall of Famers. Therein lies the problem: Sanchez has always been the best player on every field he’s been on until this season, so his tools alone could dominate and he hasn’t had to make adjustments.
Sanchez has a few issues to address with his swing and after seeing him make improvements during instructs, a Yankees executive confirmed they have been proactively addressing this with the player. Sanchez’s swing is suited for power, so he’s understandably aggressive in a number of ways but his late hand pump and long stride both weren’t creating more power and were harming his ability to hit certain kinds of pitches. He also appeared to close his stance some in instructs, letting him stay on the ball longer and control his bat speed and aggression as he has to travel farther to get off-balance. The Yankees exec put these tweaks under the umbrella of “teaching Gary that sometimes extra effort doesn’t create extra power.”
Looking at Sanchez’s hit tool in the three categories I’ve mentioned in previous articles shows why I’m a little unsure how to project him. Sanchez clearly has plus or even plus-plus tools: plus bat speed and strength along with a direct path, high finish, great eye/hand coordination and an ability to hit the ball where it’s pitched. As normally follows with great tools, Sanchez has shown good bat control but I think the mechanical issues mentioned above affect his ability in this area and his plate discipline.
When protecting the plate with two strikes, Sanchez is forced to swing at anything close and Hi-A pitchers would throw fastballs in and above his hands. His late hand pump didn’t allow to him get around on these pitches. Sanchez could lay off this pitch earlier in the count, but two strike counts will expose any weaknesses, particularly against pitchers with advanced feel.
Two-strike counts also showed that Sanchez’s approach can improve. While his long stride can make him susceptible to off-speed pitches and his aggressive approach had him chasing pitches out of the zone early in the count, he could square up almost any pitch near the zone with two strikes. He also would be much more selective, proving that the looser concept of the zone earlier in the count was a choice, not deficient pitch recognition. This is where tools can help plate discipline: quieting his swing would make it even easier for Sanchez to lay off bad pitches early in the count and he can make solid contact even when off-balance.
His prodigious power will often show up in games, but similarly with his plate discipline, Sanchez’s mechanics and approach can affect how frequently we see it. He made strides in converting raw power to game power while with Tampa, including many doubles to the gap in right-center, incredibly rare to see from 19-year-old facing pitchers in their mid-20’s. In instructs, I saw him connect with a two-strike fastball above his hands, yanking it out to left field. Only players with great tools are capable of this, but it’s made much easier with Sanchez’s noticeably quieter hands pre-pitch.
All that detail goes to show that Sanchez’s future with the hit and power tools will come down to how well he can simplify his swing and approach at the plate. His improvements in-season and in instructs show he has the ability to make adjustments, something we hadn’t seen before the season. His age allows me to give him the benefit of the doubt and while his hitting ceiling is elite—something like .285 and 30 homers—I see a realistic outcome a notch lower at .270 and 25 bombs.
The real question is if Sanchez can produce that hitting line while playing catcher, as that would make him a potential MVP candidate. While he has a better chance to stick behind the plate than the last Yankees’ slugging catcher prospect Jesus Montero, I think Sanchez’s future is at 1B or DH. While Sanchez’s arm would play at any position, he’s a 20 runner without much lateral quickness, so if he can’t catch, 1B/DH is the only other option. His hands are fringy; they’re acceptable given the other tools he has but he’ll still box some pitches and he has some trouble handling hard stuff to his glove side. The issue is his feet, which limit his agility and mute his pop times as his lower half drags behind (best in-game pop time was 1.94, often above 2.00).
There are ways to improve flexibility, quickness and catching skills to where Sanchez could offer a fringy defensive package, but he’s got a long way to go and I’m not sure he has enough quick-twitch in his lower half to get there. At times, Sanchez’s body language indicates he isn’t too interested in catching but the Yankees would be foolish to move him until they’re certain the 19 year old can’t improve any further behind the dish.
While there’s a non-zero chance Sanchez turns into an everyday All-Star catcher, it’s more likely he’s an above-average everyday 1B that can also serve as a backup or third catcher. And as far as realistic prospect outcomes go, that’s still among the best in the minors.