New York Yankees News: 2020 will be big for Gary Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka, find out why

William Parlee
Gary Sanchez, Kyle Higashioka

This will be a big year for Gary Sanchez

The New York Yankees have some positions that they will be watching closely, like left field and shortstop.  At short this year will be Gleyber Torres, who is good with the bat but shakey at his position in which he will have his first starting season.  If he doesn’t perform, don’t be surprised if the New York Yankees look to acquire shortstop sensation Francisco Lindor, who will be a free agent after this year.

Leftfield at Yankee Stadium will be manned mostly by Giancarlo Stanton, who the Yankees will be happy with.  However, with his injuries since being a Yankee put that position in question.  The only thing the Yankees have going for them there compared to shortstop is that they have many options to choose from.  The only back up to Torres is Tyler Wade.  Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman, Tyler Wade, and Miguel Andujar all have proven they can play in leftfield.  If Stanton is injured, the Yankee’s first choice of the group would be Andujar, as he has the best bat by a long shot.

The New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman will most likely be watching the catching position closer than any in the upcoming season.  Gary Sanchez needs to have an injury-free season.

At the age of seventeen in 2009, the Yankees signed Gary as in international free agent, giving him a $3 million signing bonus. After signing, he started playing with the Gulf Coast Yankees, but a year later, he was promoted to the Staten Island Yankees. 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, where he led the league in home runs.

During spring training in 2016, Gary competed with Austin Romine for the job of back up 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 three 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 most home runs by a catcher record until Gary broke it with 31 in September. That same season he received the Silver Slugger Award, but also 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.

Last year as the year started was again criticized for his lack of hustle and more passed balls. But, on April 7th Gary hit three 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.  Sanchez ended the season with a batting average of .234, a big improvement from 2018.  He also hit 34 home runs, which are huge for a catcher.

Here are the facts:  Sanchez is the most underrated catcher in baseball.  His home run hitting ability puts him right at the top of the best hitting catchers in the game.  Add to that the New York Yankees are very high on him.  But the underlying problem with Sanchez is that he is highly prone to injury.  In the past four years, he has only played in an average of 92 games a season.  If he has another injury season where he plays in only half the games, the Yankees may very well look beyond Sanchez for a new catcher going forward.

The Yankees could look to J.T. Realmuto, who will be a free agent after this year.  Realmuto is not the home run hitter Sanchez is but has a better batting average over the last several years.  He is 29 and may be coming into this prime as he hit a career-high 25 home runs last year, and his defense as a catcher is stellar. Another consideration will be how well Kyle Higashioka backs up Sanchez in the coming season.

Kyle Higashioka must shine

During the offseason, the New York Yankees lost their backup catcher in Austin Romine, who is now catching for the Detroit Tigers.  Kyle Higashioka is the next man up.  The Yankees during the offseason picked up two more catchers.  But for this season, they are sticking with Higashioka as the backup to Gary Sanchez.

He started out the 2018 season at the Rail Riders but was called up in June due to another Sanchez injury. On July 1, he hit his first major league home run against the Boston Red Sox’s David Price. His next two hits were also home runs, making him the 1st player to hit three home runs as his first hits in the majors since 1920. During the rest of 2018 and in 2019, Higashioka was called up several times due to Sanchez’s injuries. When called up last year, he usually alternated with Austin Romine, caring for the backstop’s duties and is an integral part of the organization.

Kyle is not the best hitter, but when he does, it’s often for power (23 HRs between the Rail Riders and the Yankees last season). He calls a great game is an excellent defender. He is the longest-tenured Yankee minor/major leaguer, having been with them eleven years along with Brett Gardner.  If Sanchez is injured again this season, it may be Kyle’s last chance to prove he can be the Yankee’s catcher.

During the shortened spring training, Higashioka was the star hitting the most home runs of any player (3) while accomplishing his best batting average (.276).  During the shut down he has been staying game ready at his home in Oregon.  At his first Yankees big league camp, Higashioka was the youngest player, and Mariano Rivera was the oldest.  Higashioka has paid his dues and deserves his chance to be the Yankee catcher should Sanchez have another injury-riddled season.  His performance this year will be closely watched.

Last month New York Yankee manager Aaron Boone said:

“He’s earned this spot, this opportunity,’’ manager Aaron Boone said last month. “He’s put himself in a really good position to be that guy and I have a lot of confidence in him.’’