There is probably no New York Yankees player that is more controversial than Gary Sanchez; you either love or hate him, according to how you see him. Some see him as a miserable failure as a backstop, and others see him as the most powerful catcher in MLB history. As I see it, neither is entirely true, but I will say his improvement in 2019 was remarkable, defensively even though his hitting was not good. In 2020 he elevated horrible to new heights hitting only .147.
The is no question that Gary Sanchez has been the most maligned New York Yankee player in the last few years, causing many fans to say he should be replaced. Sanchez was once a Yankee star. In 2017 he had 33 home runs, 90 RBI’s, and batted .278. He was an All-Star, MVP candidate, and a Silver Slugger. After that performance, he was projected to be the next big Yankees star.
But, that was not to be; from that point on, his performance in front and behind the plate deteriorated until a low point last season when he hit only .147 and was mostly replaced by backup catcher Kyle Higashioka even in the postseason. No matter how bad he was, the Yankees continued to show their support for the catcher by awarding him a one-year contract, stating that he would be the starting catcher. After a couple of weeks of poor play, he again lost that position, with Higashioka catching Cole and Kluber.
This season up to two weeks ago, there was only marginally better performance as his struggles at the plate continued. But nineteen days ago, a new Gary Sanchez showed up. In his last 19 games, he has hit six home runs, appears far more comfortable at the plate, hitting an improved .229 batting average. He also, in the period, has 7 extra-base hits. Should he continue at this torrid pace, he could become the Yankees’ next big star again.
To know Gary Sanchez, you have to go back to the beginning. On December 2, 1992, Orquidia Herrera gave birth to a baby boy in the Dominican Republic. That boy was Gary Sanchez. His parents separated when he was young, and he, his three brothers, and one sister were raised by their mother and Grandmother, Agustina Pena. There is not a lot known about how Gary started in baseball, but we do know he played in the sandlots of the Dominican Republic and that he was discovered by Mark Newman, who was at the time the head of the Yankees farm system. At the Yankees training facility complex in Boca Chica, a 15-year-old Gary Sanchez impressed him. In a game, Gary, in just four swings, hit a homer to right, then to center, and then to left field.
Yankees sign prospect Gary Sanchez
At the age of seventeen in 2009, the New York Yankees signed Gary as an international free agent, giving him a $3 million signing bonus. After signing, he started playing with the Gulf Coast Yankees, but he was promoted to the Staten Island Yankees a year later. In 2010, he finished the season with a batting average of .329 with 8 home runs and 43 runs batted in and was called one of the best prospects in all of baseball. He started the 2012 season with Charleston but was quickly promoted to the Tampa Yankees and eventually to the Trenton Thunder. in 2015; he was promoted to the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders. He got his major league appearance as a pinch hitter on October 3rd, where he went hitless in two at-bats. When the season was over, he played for the Arizona Fall League, leading the league in home runs.
Sanchez competes for starting catcher
During spring training in 2016, Gary competed with Austin Romine for a backup catcher, but Romine won out, and Gary started the season with the Rail Riders. The Yankees again promoted Sánchez to the major leagues on August 3, and he recorded his first major league hit that same day. On August 10, Sánchez went 4-for-5, with his first major league home run and 3 singles. On August 16, Sánchez had his first two home run game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Early in 2017, Gary served his first stint on the DL. Later in the year, he participated in the Home Run Derby, beating out Giancarlo Stanton 17-16 but losing to Miguel Sano.
Yogi Barra held the New York Yankee record for the most home runs by a catcher record until Gary broke it with 33 in September of 2017. That same season he received the Silver Slugger Award and tied for the most passed balls in the majors. In 2018 he was again on the DL and was out for a month. Also, during the year, he was criticized for lack of hustle and more passed balls. After being on the DL twice, Gary played in only 89 games during the year. He finished the year batting .186 and got the award for the most passed balls in majors.
A Gary Sanchez rebirth?
During 2019 he was again criticized for his lack of hustle and more passed balls. But on April 7th Gary hit 3 home runs in the same game, but he quickly found himself on the IL again. After a few weeks, he returned to a stretch of 0-11 at the plate. He then hit the first grand slam of his career against the San Francisco Giants. During a game in July at Target Field, Sanchez again found himself on the IL, this time with a groin strain. He returned to the rotation much sooner than expected and as a different player. No more lack of hustle no more passed balls, and more home runs. The fact is that the trio of Sanchez, Romine, and Higashioka was the most potent catcher trio in the AL. As the season progressed, he found himself in a home run contest, with Gleyber Torres falling one short of Torre’s 38.
Fast forward to the coronavirus shortened 2020 season. Sanchez managed to stay healthy. However, he was nothing short of horrible offensively. On the defensive side of the plate, he has 4 passed balls on the season so far. That equates to roughly 12 in a standard season. All of last year, in 162 games, he had only 7 passed balls. So, his 2019 defensive improvement has been lost that year. Sanchez has not had an acceptable batting average since 2017. Last season his batting was just .147, his worst season batting average ever. Many fans thought his batting was like a deer in the headlights, uncomfortable and completely lost.
Gary Sanchez facts
The facts are this: Sanchez is an average catcher with an accurate bullet of an arm that few base runners should challenge. According to pitchers, he calls an excellent game. He is a catcher that can hit home runs and lots of them when he is hitting. Gary is still young as a backstop and could very well be known in the future as one of the greatest New York Yankee catchers in history, rivaling Yogi and Thurman. As we watch Gary, we worry about staying healthy and stopping striking out with runners in scoring position.
So, according to which side of the fence you’re on, you either think Gary doesn’t try hard enough, lacks the hustle, and is a failure as a catcher who can’t hit either. Or you think he’s the best thing since sliced bread and a future Yankee great. Even his greatest supporters are continually reexamining their support.
Sanchez lives with his wife Sahaira and their five-year-old daughter Sara in New York, but during the offseason, they love traveling. In the past two seasons, they’ve been to Costa Rica and Peru. Sanchez has often said the birth of his daughter made him realize that he couldn’t squander his opportunity to be a big-league player.
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.