Recently, I watched a Yankees Spring Training game to get myself in the zone for the new season. One aspect of the game that caught my eye (no pun intended) was John Flaherty’s comments about Gary Sanchez behind the plate. He mentioned that when Sanchez went down to block pitches in the dirt, he dropped his glove first quickly and let his body follow. Flaherty noted that this was a large step forward from last season, in which he was late getting his glove down.
That inning, Sanchez had no trouble blocking several pitches in the dirt with ease. If this development continues throughout the regular season, Gary Sanchez will already have taken a major step forward in his attempts to come back from a dreadful season.
It has been rightfully noted that Sanchez led MLB with 18 passed balls – in only 76 games at catcher. Now, he has had issues blocking pitches for two seasons now, as he also led the American League in passed balls in 2017 with 16. That being said, Sanchez also hit .278 with a .345 on base percentage and a .531 slugging percentage along with 33 home runs and 90 runs batted in. His slash line dropped to a .186 BA, .291 OBP, and .406 SLG last season, making his poor defense more noticeable.
Obviously, Sanchez’s calling card is his bat, but there certainly is still plenty of talent in the field. We are in a relatively weak period for catchers in MLB. In ESPN’s Fantasy ratings, only two catchers – J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies and Sanchez – were ranked in the top 100 MLB players. Given that fantasy numbers are mostly driven by offensive production, Sanchez’s inclusion despite coming off of a lackluster season says a lot about the position as a whole this year. So, having a solid all-around catcher gives a team a leg up. Even with his inconsistencies, Sanchez’s talent is enough to keep him behind the plate.
In addition, Sanchez does have talent behind the plate. He has a cannon of an arm, throwing out 35 percent of baserunners attempting to steal on him over the past two seasons. With improved accuracy and form, that number could easily go up. His pitch framing, while not seen as a major strength, is still solid and provide another boost behind the plate.
Ultimately, improving defensively will allow Sanchez to relax and focus on his offense. That way, he will not have to worry about allowing too many passed balls and forcing his pitchers to constantly be working with runners in scoring position. Also, he will be able to put more time and effort into finding his stroke and hitting at the high level he was at in his first two seasons in the Majors.
However, Sanchez still has a way to go until he becomes a top-tier defensive catcher. Again, his offense is what will keep him on the team. His defense might be just as important, as it supports the Yankees’ pitching staff and gives the Bombers an asset that few teams have right now: a solid defensive catcher that can also hit. So, Sanchez should keep putting his work in to improve his glove work, because it is a small step forward to become the great player the Yankees envision him as.