TAMPA – Thursday morning, the Yankees pitchers and catchers will head out onto the back fields of the spring training complex for the first time this year. While there will be plenty of interest in watching their new lefthander, James Paxton, and seeing if ace Luis Severino has found a way to be more consistent, the biggest question the Yankees have among this group might be Gary Sanchez.
Coming off a dreadful season, the Bombers brass has consistently stood behind their young backstop. Brian Cashman has adamantly backed Sanchez through last year’s disaster and manager Aaron Boone said he “believes” in the players.
“It would be hard not to have Gary Sanchez as our catcher,” the Yankees GM said at the Winter Meetings. “He’s certainly someone that we’ve invested in and believe in and expect to be a part of this place moving forward.”
Cashman added that Sanchez is part of the Yankees’ solution, “There’s no problem with him from that perspective.”
Thursday morning, we will begin to see if their unwavering support for Sanchez will be repaid with results.
Sanchez hit just .186 with a .406 slugging percentage last season. He hit 18 homers and struck out 94 times in 323 at-bats. That was a considerable drop from the .278/.345/.531 he slashed in 2017 with 33 homers and 90 RBI in 471 at-bats.
Sanchez dealt with a nagging groin injury last season, forcing the 26-year-old to miss 57 games. While he is coming into spring training after having had offseason shoulder surgery, the Yankees expect him to be healthy and ready for a rebound season.
While rumors swirled that the Yankees could be in the market for an upgrade at catcher, the Yankees adamantly denied it. It may be a moot point, because there simply wasn’t an obvious upgrade available. Sanchez is young and the hope is that he basically had a bad year.
His first two seasons in the big leagues indicate that he knows how to hit a baseball. His contact rate may have been down last season, but he still flashed the power that makes him so attractive to the Yankees. Among catchers with at least 300 at-bats, Sanchez had the second best OPS (.406) behind Kurt Suzuki.
He also improved his walk rate last season, drawing six more (46) in almost half the at-bats than he did in 2017.
That said, Sanchez has areas to improve, especially behind the plate.
He posted a major-league leading 18 passed balls and 45 wild pitches behind the plate last season. No matter how his offensive numbers improve, he has to also show growth behind the plate as well.
His manager thinks he is ready for a breakout year.
“This year is going to be a huge year of growth for him,” Boone said at the Winter Meetings. “And going through some of the challenges and adversity that he went through is going to make him a better player.”