New York Yankees: Gary Sanchez is under the microscope, can he be the real deal?

William Parlee
New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez
Feb 12, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez (24) works out as pitchers and catchers report for spring training at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez is under the microscope big time in spring training, which is not likely to go away any time soon. Before I get into the story and the hype, I’ve got to say that I want Gary Sanchez to succeed, both for himself and, to a greater extent, for the team’s success.

From the start, even in his All-Star years, Sanchez has been polarizing. Much of the scrutiny warranted, some not. If you try to analyze it, it’s because he is a guy with such potential, most of it unrealized. The hype surrounding him goes both ways. Some say he is the best catcher in baseball, but the fact is that he isn’t, at least from the backstop perspective. His big plus is that he has a rocket of an arm that few will try to challenge when they want to steal a base.

He also has the potential of hitting home runs at will. The question is why he hasn’t consistently risen to that plateau. That is a complicated question that I can’t begin to answer. But there are some clues. Last year anyone that follows Sanchez or the New York Yankees knows that Gary had a horrible season. There is no other way to color it. He failed behind the plate, and to put it simply, he couldn’t do his job hitting the baseball.

One has to believe that with such potential, Gary’s head gets in the way of his success. After the season, Gary said, “I didn’t know why I wasn’t playing,” a statement that puzzled many. It led many to wonder if he understood the game of baseball. When you don’t perform and hurt the team, you don’t play. When you play under immense pressure, some rise to new heights, some get shot down by the pressure. The bottom line is that Sanchez got into a bad place last season that he just couldn’t get out of.

Here are the facts: In 2016 and 2017, the Yankees thought they had a bonified catching star on their hands. Between those two years, he hit 53 home runs and batted .288. Specifically, in 2016 he hit 20 home runs in just 53 games, that one home run in every two and a half games. That’s insane; based on that, he could hit over 60 home runs a year. In the Rookie of the Year competition, he came in second. He was a Silver Slugger, an All-Star, and an MVP candidate.

But in 2018, that all fell apart, and for the most part, has stayed that way. He has also had problems with the injury bug. In 2019 he hit the most home runs of his career with 34, but his strikeouts soared, and his batting average dropped to .232. Unfortunately, 2020 was even worse; he hit .147 and even lost many of his catching opportunities to backup catcher Kyle Higashioka, even when Kyle wasn’t the personal catcher for ace Gerrit Cole. Gary caught in only two of the seven post-season games. That is what prompted the; no one told me why I was playing statement.

If Sanchez is indeed a “head case,” it isn’t because of the manager or New York Yankee front office; they had constantly stood by him, even when there was no reason to. At the end of last season, it started to look like that relationship might be cracking. But low and behold, in the offseason, the Yankees tendered him a contract and stated that he would be their starting catcher.

Now with a new season coming up and spring training in its second week, the hype is back for Sanchez to bounce back to his 2017 self. Things are looking pretty good for Sanchez. Manager Aaron Boone has basically (and confusingly) striped Higashioka of his personal catcher title, saying that Gary will be catching Cole. (Cole is twice as good when being caught by Higashioka). Also, in just a few games, Gary has hit two monster home runs. The pressure from a catching and hitting standpoint is back in full force. Will he respond as everyone wants him to, or will he continue to play as he did last season.

If, after a few less than expected outings catching Cole, you have to believe that after last year’s results, Boone will not stick to his decision to remove Higashioka. If that happens, it will be another hit on Gary’s ego and stature. Gary has done the work in the offseason to improve his game, and everyone is encouraging him as they should. Here is what his catching coach Tanner Swanson had to say about Gary, and some quotes from fellow players, draw your own conclusions:

“Gary’s a guy that can go out there and win AL MVP,” Aaron Judge said Sunday from George M. Steinbrenner Field after the Yankees beat the Phillies 4-0. “He’s that dynamic and that important of a player to this team.”

“He does seem very focused in his early work,” DJ LeMahieu added. “Out to prove that he’s Gary Sanchez and he’s one of the best catchers in the league.”

“He’s been really accountable for his performance in 2020 and hasn’t run from that and has faced some of those challenges head on,” Swanson said. “Personally, our dynamic has really improved as well. I think that’s been a positive thing as we continue to find areas where we can strengthen his game. It’s really evolved from a coach-to-player directive — a place where, in the past, especially early on, it was, ‘I’ll do whatever you tell me’ — to now it’s really developed into a partnership, which is much more effective in terms of the long-term sustainability of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

In the end, the pressure on Gary is justified. He must perform to expectations this season, if he doesn’t it may be his last year with the New York Yankees. He may or may not understand that, they say that ignorance is bliss or is it? Some say he could be this season’s MVP, how much pressure is that?