To say New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had a good rookie year is an understatement of Ruthian proportions.
And yes, we just invoked the Bambino.
Sanchez is 694 home runs shy of Babe Ruth on the all-time list. But after cracking 20 homers and posting a .299/.376/.657 slash line in 53 games, he's at the forefront of an enviable youth movement in the Bronx.
He's also a candidate for American League Rookie of the Year honors, despite the fact that he wasn't called up for good until Aug. 3.
While he didn't log the service time of the other AL ROY finalists—the Detroit Tigers' Michael Fulmer and the Cleveland Indians' Tyler Naquin—his impact was as impressive as it was undeniable. In addition to his offensive output, he flashed a howitzer arm, gunning down 41 percent of would-be base stealers.
We caught up with the 23-year-old Sanchez, via a translator, to ask about his award chances, the inevitable Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez comparisons and whether the big leagues were easier than he expected.
Bleacher Report: The Yankees began last season as a veteran team but by the second half had shifted into a rebuild. What was the atmosphere like in the clubhouse during the stretch run as you guys stayed in playoff contention?
Gary Sanchez: The first thing is, those veterans really took us under their wing when we all got there. They made it a point to reach out to all of us and make us feel comfortable and make us feel at home. I think that helped us contribute.
People talk about us young guys, but the veteran guys did their part in that stretch run. But yes, it was exciting. And yes, we were very excited in the clubhouse.
B/R: Is there any particular moment from your rookie season that stands out as the most special, or the moment when you knew you belonged?
GS: When I first got called up, I went oh-fer my first couple of games. I was feeling anxious because I wanted to get my first hit. And [manager Joe] Girardi came up to me and said, "Gary, take it easy. You're going to be in the lineup every day. Just go out there and do what you would do in the minor leagues."
That was the moment where I just felt the confidence to go out there and take some pressure off my shoulders and do what I needed to do.
B/R: You've been compared to potential Hall of Famer Pudge Rodriguez. What do you think about that?
GS: That's tough for me to answer. Other people have that opinion. But I haven't really seen him play, so it's difficult for me to comment on that.
B/R: You had such incredible success so quickly. When you were hitting all those home runs, did it ever feel like the major leagues were easier than you expected?
GS: Yes, in the sense that I didn't even believe what was happening with all the home runs I was hitting. I didn't expect to have that type of first few weeks in the big leagues.
B/R: Who was the toughest pitcher you faced and why?
GS: Honestly speaking, this first time around, I felt confident against every pitcher I faced. I didn't feel overmatched against anybody. Now, having said that, next year is when they're going to start seeing me a second, third, fourth time, so now the challenge is they're going to adapt and adjust to me.
B/R: With that in mind, are there any parts of your game you're looking to refine or improve next season?
GS: I need to improve everything. I can't rest on my laurels. I need to improve my offense and my defense.
B/R: What was the hardest thing about adjusting to playing in New York City, with that huge market and all the media attention?
GS: It really wasn't that difficult, because I've been a Yankee my whole career. I'm familiar with the Yankee system, with the Yankee organization. Thankfully, when I got here, I did pretty well and I was really supported by the fans. I'm happy to be a Yankee, and there wasn't anything that's made it particularly hard so far.
B/R: In talking about you, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he wanted to "unleash the Kraken," and that took off. How do you feel about that nickname?
GS: I like the Kraken. I like anything the fans want to call me, as long as it's said in a positive light.
B/R: Let's talk about the Rookie of the Year race. Do you think you deserve to be AL Rookie of the Year even though you didn't play as many games as the other candidates? Is it something you're hoping for?
GS: I'm really not thinking much about the Rookie of the Year Award. I know there's been talk about it. But I'm really not focused on it.
I know there are other players who are deserving, and it'll be up to the voters. If I'm lucky enough to get it, it would be a blessing. But there's some really stiff competition. This was an important year for rookies.
B/R: I assume you watched the postseason. Did that give you any added motivation to get there next season?
GS: I [was] watching, and it does motivate me. But I've been motivated before that.
B/R: What would your message be to Yankees fans who are already expecting you to carry the franchise? Do you feel any added pressure after such an amazing debut?
GS: I would say that no major league organization is just one player. It's me and 24 other guys. It's about the Yankees; it's not about myself individually.
But I can tell you that we are going to work hard to bring a championship to New York.