The Yankees have spent almost an entire now courting and developing their Baby Bombers. It hasn’t been easy and there have been hiccups along the way. But one player, in particular, stands out in terms of both need and resulting production.
When the Yankees arrived in Tampa to begin Spring Training, players like Jordan Montgomery, Ronald Torreyes, and even Aaron Judge didn’t have jobs with the team. The pitching staff was subject to whim on any given day and it was anybody’s guess as to who would be their fifth starter and whether CC Sabathia could make it through the season without crumbling to the ground.
There was one certainty, though. Gary Sanchez would be the American League All-Star catcher and he would seriously challenge for the MVP of the league. This was all based, of course, on what was seen from him in the final month of the 2016 season when he put up those ungodly offensive numbers we are all familiar with.
And we saw how the Yankees recognized immediately they had a ready-made ticket seller on their hands, wasting no time thrusting him into the spotlight during the offseason, with photo-ops at a New York Deli and his picture on the front cover of their publications.
And why not? With the retirement of Derek Jeter in 2014, the organization was idling without a “face” of the team. There was even talk about naming Sanchez as the next Captain of the Pinstripes.
There was, however, one problem with all those plans. Gary Sanchez was not ready to be the face of the team, or for that matter, even a face of himself. He was a young man with wild potential as a player in this league, but also with undeveloped raw skills that hadn’t yet been mastered in the minor leagues.
He was labeled as a slouch behind the plate, a non-hustler at fielding balls in the dirt and a non-student of the game, which took its toll on his ability to call a game. Most of it was true and things got to a point where even his manager, Joe Girardi, felt it necessary, or maybe just lost his temper in calling out Sanchez in the dugout and in full view of the YES cameras.
Sanchez stayed in Girardi’s doghouse and even sat for a game or two. But through all that, Girardi spoke glowingly about his catcher’s potential, if only Sanchez would develop a better work ethic, getting down in the dirt with his body to block those nasty splitters Masahiro Tanaka was unleashing.
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Sanchez did that throughout the course of several early days at the ballpark when he was seen by his teammates and the media working to hone the skills he needed to be a bona fide major league catcher.
And while Sanchez is still, and may always be, a work in progress defensively, he never lost his bat during the ordeal.
And when the Yankees needed him most to fill the gap created by Judge in the second half, together with injuries to Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks, Sanchez has responded with a splurge of home runs and a run production explosion.
The Yankees hit machine
The man is a hitting machine, no matter where Girardi places him in the lineup. And because he is that, the spotlight has been removed from his defensive woes, even though he leads the league in errors and passed balls from his catching position.
And maybe we should remember Yogi Berra did not make it to the Hall of Fame because of his catching abilities. And noticeably, the Yankees replaced him the first chance they got, shuffling him off to left field in favor of Elston Howard.
And the team would have done the same thing with Jorge Posada, except Posada balked, only going through the motions of a try at first base when the Yankees asked him about making a change.
But in both of these cases, the offensive contributions of each player overshadow everything they ever did in a Yankees uniform.
And ten years from now, it’s likely the same thing will be said about Gary Sanchez, the Yankees hitting machine.
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