For the New York Yankees, star power always trumps the success or failure of top prospects. In the case of 21-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez, a difficult start to the 2014 season could be a prelude to another bust emanating from general manager Brian Cashman's farm system.
According to Nick Peruffo of The Trentonian, the Double-A backstop was held out of the Trenton Thunder lineup for a second straight game for what is believed to be disciplinary reasons. After a private player-manager meeting, skipper Tony Franklin was vague yet telling in his explanation to the media, per Peruffo's report.
“It was disciplinary action,” Franklin said. “I needed to take care of that today, to get things clarified and cleared up. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it was a violation of some of our guidelines and I needed to take care of it. Gary is out of there for a couple of days until we decide he deserves to play again, plain and simple.”
Assuming that Franklin has the blessing of upper management in New York's organization, Sanchez isn't making a good impression this season. After four consecutive years of Top 100 rankings on Baseball America's annual prospect list, much was expected of him at Double-A this year.
Thus far, a .741 OPS hasn't been particularity noteworthy. Now compounding the situation is a minor league manager questioning if he deserves to play. Based on the need to develop Sanchez into an impact player or major trade chip, it's ludicrous to think that the Yankees would halt his development based on a benign infraction.
If Franklin and the organization believed discipline was necessary, it likely was.
And speaking of minor leagues; from what I understand, Gary Sanchez has the coaching staff in Trenton pretty pissed off at him.— Gavin Ewbank (@GavinEwbank) June 13, 2014
Unfortunately for this player and the Yankees' recent track record of developing prospects, the potential for Sanchez to turn into a bust is very, very real. As the following chart shows, the Yankees have only drafted six active players that went on to careers of 10-plus WAR in the majors. Of that group, only three—Derek Jeter, Brett Gardner and David Robertson—are part of the current 25-man roster in the Bronx.
Now, to be fair, Sanchez's success or failure has little to do with the plights of former farmhands like Phil Coke or Randy Choate. If off-the-field transgressions or lack of preparation hold Sanchez back, it's unfair to blame the Yankees or the current coaching staff. After yearly reports of future excellence, the prudent approach would be to give Sanchez the benefit of the doubt here and watch the rest of his season unfold.
Furthermore, Sanchez's production "drop" can easily be traced to his age in relation to the Eastern League.
Let's start with Sanchez's 2014 numbers compared to his recent success in the Yankees system. As a 21-year-old in the Eastern League, Sanchez is roughly 3.6 years younger than the average player in the Double-A league. Upon a call-up to Trenton as a 20-year-old in 2013, Sanchez was nearly four-and-a-half years younger than the average player he was competing against, per Baseball-Reference.
While it's easy to wonder where the .829 OPS, 211 total bases and 18 home runs of 2012 have gone, remember that most of that damage came in the South Atlantic League. Although Sanchez, then 19, was also young for that league, the difference wasn't as stark as it has been lately.
Will Gary Sanchez ever be the starting catcher for the Yankees?
As the narrative around Sanchez evolves, keep in mind this important fact: His value to the Yankees may not be as important as it is around the game.
With Brian McCann in the first year of a five-year, $85 million deal, the starting catching position in New York looks to be secure for years. Complicating matters more: 23-year-old John Ryan Murphy has performed admirably (102 OPS+) as a backup in 2014, leaving little room for even a mature, improved Sanchez to crack New York's future roster.
As Brendan Kuty of NJ.com explored in May, Sanchez's best value to the Yankees could be through a trade to bring back an impact starting pitcher this summer.
With any prospect, especially recent Yankee farmhands, it's easy to associate disciplinary issues or drops in production as a sign of a future bust. In the case of Sanchez, it's too early to give on a player with this much talent.
Over the next six weeks, the Yankees likely hope that opposing teams feel the same way.