When you have depth in a position, it makes complete sense to trade the next Mike Piazza in order to strengthen a weakness. That is exactly what the Yankees did when they traded Jesus Montero for Michael Pineda. A major reason that they were able to do that is because of what is to come, catching prospect Gary Sanchez
Sanchez is a young pup having just turned 19 on December 2, 2011, making his future still very much undetermined. The one thing that everyone seems to agree on, the kid’s raw talent is very much determined.
Born in 1992 in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, baseball came naturally to Sanchez. He excelled at it so well that on June 19, 2009, the Yankees signed Sanchez for $2.5 million at the tender age of 16 years old. The price was exorbitant for a 16-year-old catcher from the Dominican Republic, but the Yankees pursued him aggressively and saw big-time talent.
A Latin America scout for an NL organization at that time had this to say about Sanchez, “He is a big kid with a big arm. I have never seen a 16 year old with that type of body. He is a real good hitter, but he doesn’t hit like Jesus Montero.” The major difference between Sanchez and Montero would turn out to be his defense.
While Montero never projected to be a quality MLB backstop, the same cannot be said for Sanchez. In 2010, his first year in rookie ball at age 17, Sanchez hit a combined .339 with 14 home runs and 79 RBIs in 292 at bats spanning 78 games averaging a home run every 20.85 at bats. His destructive arm was apparent from the start throwing out 22.9% of the runners that even dared test him. At only 17, it was looking like the Yankees made a wise $2.5 million investment
Later on that same year, the Yankees decided to push him a little more and promoted him to the low-A Staten Island Yankees of the New York Penn League. It was a minor adjustment as Sanchez hit .278 with 2 home runs and 7 RBIs over 16 games. His destructive arm was in full display as he threw out 54% of would be base-stealers. They walked away remembering his name after the game.
Based on his stellar rookie season, Baseball America ranked Sanchez as the #30 prospect in all of baseball at the tender age of 18. He was pushed to high-A Charleston for the 2011 season and saw some dips in his offensive production. In 82 games and 343 at bats, Sanchez hit .256 with 17 home runs and 52 RBIs. He continued to flash the raw power he displayed in 2010 as his home run ratio remained consistent at 1 every 20.18 at bats.
His defense, however, remained in top form. He threw out 31% of the baserunners that did not believe the hype and posted a .986 fielding percentage. The makings of a complete catcher were well underway for the New York Yankees.
The raw skills are there for Sanchez as he has consistently displayed the power and the arm strength to develop into an above average major league catcher. His strikeout rate, 1 every 3.48 at bats over two minor league seasons, is something he will need to work on. With each level jump, Sanchez has had to make adjustments as his strikeout rate (4.25 in rookie ball, 3.375 in low-A, 3.275 in A) has gotten a hair worse with each stop.
However, Sanchez is 19 years old and already ahead of where he should be at his age. The development is there as he is showing signs of improving his plate discipline. In 2010, he worked a walk in 7.14% of his plate appearances and improved in 2011 to 10.66%.
Defensively, Sanchez does have some room to grow. According to Thomas Bellmont, of Baseball Instinct, Sanchez has a lot to learn behind the plate but is showing enough to lead Bellmont to believe he will become an above average major league catcher.
Bellmont breaks Sanchez’s defensive game down further, noting that his wild pitch totals have been high as he has been ineffective at blocking balls in the dirt. These are nothing that a 19-year-old kid with a rocket arm cannot harness and develop.
The trade of Montero and the signing of Russell Martin have shown that the Yankees believe in Sanchez’s ability to grow into a major league catcher. He has already shown the raw power and has started the 2012 season back at Charleston. Look for him to make the jump to AA either later this year or next year, depending on how quickly he can improve his glove and strikeout ratio.
An arrival for the 2014 season is not out of the question. There is no rush for Sanchez with Russell Martin handling the job just fine, and the Yankees would probably bring him back for the 2013 season to give Sanchez more time to grow.
The line of great Yankee catchers runs deep from Bill Dickey to Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurmon Munson and Jorge Posada. One thing they all have in common is they were born and developed as Yankees. Gary Sanchez has the tools to develop into one of the greats alongside those who have played before him.
* all stats provided by www.baseball-reference.com. Analysis of said stats are the opinion of the writer
Patience: Part 6 - Gary Sanchez