On Friday night, I was in attendance for the Yankees vs. Braves at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. Happily, I got a birds-eye view of batterymates Sonny Gray and Gary Sanchez. Both looked primed for significant contributions this season.
It’s always a crapshoot whenever you purchase Spring Training tickets. Will the stars suit up? If so, how many innings will they play? And since the Yankees ventured to Lake Buena Vista, FLA., home of the Atlanta Braves, let me tell you, ticket prices were extravagant.
Regardless, I had to be in attendance to get a close-up look at the newest iteration of the Yanks. I especially enjoy getting to witness the next crop of potentially great players — the prospects.
Playing a night game after a day game, manager Aaron Boone left some of his prized possessions back in Tampa, including Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton.
Luckily, the battery of presumed No. 3 starter Sonny Gray and Gary Sanchez were on full display.
As I sat next to my father, talking about last season’s blockbuster trade that sent a trio of top talent to Oakland for Gray, we discussed the diminutive right-hander’s penchant for tiring in the fifth-inning, and how the Yankees typically failed to offer much in the way of run support.
Without much worry about Gray having to go a full five on Friday night, lack of runs was once again out in full force.
On a balmy 58-degree evening in Central Florida, Gray looked every bit the ace he was during his lone All-Star season in 2015. Over 3.2 innings pitched, Gray, allowed only one hit while striking out three. Though he did walk two batters, Gray has yet to give up a single run this spring, while continuing to get ahead with first-pitch strikes.
Following the Yankees’ 3-1 loss, Aaron Boone spoke to NJ.com about his expectations for Gray in 2018.
"“Really big,” Boone said. “I’ve seen him — I’ve been in the building when he’s been at his very best. When he was dueling (Justin) Verlander in the playoffs and it’s just zeros, like a dominant pitcher. We feel like coming in this year, having already been with the team, a little more comfort. He’s had really good work early.”"
Then there’s Gary Sanchez. For me, since being promoted to the majors at the tail-end of 2016, El Gary has been the Yanks’ best all-around hitter and most integral cog in the machine.
Yeah, Sanchez received some deserved criticism for his lack of blocking balls last season, but might I remind you that he was then just 24 — and had only played a total of 53 big league games headed into 2017.
From his early season month-long DL stint to the “disagreements” with Joe Girardi, Sanchez persevered, establishing himself as baseball’s best hitting catcher. If you don’t concur with that statement, please tell me who’s better and back it up with facts.
Now 25, Sanchez has all the defensive tools to be a Gold Glove-caliber talent. His arm is electric — he calls a terrific game. Blocking balls will improve, and the more time Sanchez spends with the five-man rotation, the more comfortable he’ll get behind the dish.
For all the talk that Greg Bird COULD be the American League’s-best pure hitter (three strikeouts and a pop up on the night, stranding seven men on base), Sanchez already is the best the Yanks have to offer.
In the top of the sixth-inning, Sanchez hit a frozen rope over the left field wall for his second dinger of the spring.
From the crack of the bat to the trajectory of the ball that got out of the park in a hurry, Sanchez’s silky smooth approach at the plate screams the type of confidence that no pitcher in the world can get the best of the reigning Silver Slugger Award winner.
The best thing that happened this winter for Sanchez was the Yankees’ acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. Not just for sheer protection in the lineup, but because a ton of media scrutiny and expectation has been reassigned to the new tower of power.
The less El Gary gets spoken about, the better production he’ll produce, on both sides of the ball.
With Boone putting a premium on relationships while in camp, Sanchez and Gray growing up together will pay off huge dividends in 2018.
As Gray told NorthJersey.com:
"“I love that guy, I mean he works so hard every day,’’ Gray said of Sanchez.“You get the sense that (Sanchez) genuinely cares,’’ Gray said. He’s been paired with Sanchez for almost every bullpen and live-batter outing and their communication has improved with each outing. And, “I’m not necessarily the easiest guy in the world to catch just because I try to do some things unconventional.’’"