Yankees News: Teammates rally around Gary Sanchez in what could be an ‘AL MVP’ season

Alexander Wilson
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 Yankees are hoping catcher Gary Sanchez returns to his old self, and what a fantastic story it would be if he did. Sanchez struggled immensely over the past few seasons, especially in 2020 when he recorded a .147 average with a career-high 36% strikeout rate. While he has hit double-digit home runs for five years straight, his numbers in other categories have dragged him down.

His defense has fallen off as new coaches have tried to implement different fundamentals, and his confidence at the plate has dwindled. However, this spring training has given him a bit more motivation and self-assurance, as he’s hitting .286 with three homers and four RBIs over 21 at-bats. Clearly, Sanchez didn’t lose his ability to hit homers, and that is what the Yankees are banking on for the 2021 season.

Fellow slugger Aaron Judge had extremely optimistic words for the 28-year-old catcher who signed a one-year, $6.35 million deal with the Yankees for this upcoming season.

“Gary is going to have a special year,” Judge predicted said. “The changes I’ve seen him make, the improvements on both sides of the baseball, Gary is a guy that can go out there and win an AL MVP.”

Sanchez understands that most of his struggles are mental, working with the team physician to overcome his personal struggles. When Sanchez is locked in and playing at the top of his game, there is no debate whether he is one of the better catchers in baseball.

“You get to the point where you’re not producing the results you want, and then at some point you start wanting to get two hits in one at bat,” Sanchez said on Tuesday.

Even skipper Aaron Boone commented on Gary’s situation, noting that being in a slump can sometimes compound as you try to make up for lost production. It was clear that Sanchez tried to make more out of his at-bats, trying too hard to hit home runs instead of making simple contact. That ultimately led to his 36% strikeout rate, an increase of 11% from his 2018 season, which was also considered a down year.

“At his lowest, I do think he’s very confident in what he’s capable of doing and his ability. That said, I think there have been moments last year where he was probably pressing. You want to make up for some of the struggles you’ve had, and that can snowball on you a little bit.

Sanchez has always been boosted by his teammates, even when he was facing himself in the mirror. The 2021 season is his final opportunity to prove his worth for the Yankees and hopefully lock in the long-term extension, but he needs to live up to his potential. It is now or never for Sanchez, and there’s no question his teammates are 100% behind him.

“I’ve always had really good support from my teammates,” he said. “That’s something that I can never say anything bad about. They’ve always been there for me.”