TRENTON, N.J. – Last season was not one that advanced catcher Gary Sanchez’s status in the Yankee system.
He hit .270 (116-for-429) with 13 home runs and 65 RBIs, but paying attention to detail was lacking. Former Thunder manager Tony Franklin and his staff staff sat him down for a week due to several disciplinary issues.
Even though shoulder surgery has scuttled his 2015 season, scouts began talking more about Luis Torrens as a Yankees catcher of the future than Sanchez, who, to the surprise of some, was ticketed to repeat the Double-A level this season. Still just 22, Sanchez seems to have gotten the message as the Trenton Thunder, rained out in Erie Thursday night, open their 2015 season Friday evening.
“I was real pleased with how hard Gary worked in Spring Training,” said Trenton manager Al Pedrique. “He knows what he has to do, and has gotten after it.
“We know he can hit for power. We have to get his defense to the level it needs to be.”
Sanchez, rated the No. 5 prospect in the Yankees system by Baseball America, admitted things had to change if he wanted to again be mentioned seriously as a top prospect more than on paper.
“I decided I needed to improve my defense and my communication with the coaching staff and the pitching staff,” said Sanchez. “Whatever the organization wants me to do, I’ll do. “Wherever they send me, I’ll go.
“I want to help the team win and be a leader.”
Thunder pitching coach Jose Rosado echoed those sentiments.
“He knows what I expect with how he works with the pitchers,” Rosado said. “He also knows there is no other way.”
While Sanchez has a throwing arm rated plus-plus, which makes him enticing to scouts and other observers, his defense – 17 errors and 10 passed balls, tops among Eastern League catchers in 2014 – is far from where it needs to be. And, as mentioned, his work with his pitchers – and being there for bullpen sessions when required – must be upgraded.
Sanchez is like a steel goblet that has lost its luster.
“The good thing is he knows what he has to do,” said Thunder hitting coach PJ Pillittere, a former All-Star catcher in the Yankees system. “He is listening and working to improve. I’ll be helping him with his offense and Michel (defensive coach Hernandez, another former catcher) will work with his defense.
“But if he needs any additional help with defense or working with our pitchers, I’ll be glad to offer some advice.”
All this seems to be sinking in with Sanchez.
“I know what I have to work on,” he said.
With both Pilittere and Hernandez, who were both excellent catchers and superb leaders as players, part of the Thunder coaching staff, Trenton is likely the best spot for Sanchez, especially with Austin Romine and Eddy Rodriguez getting the bulk of playing time behind the plate at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Sanchez will be handling Miguel Sulbaran, making his first Double-A start, this evening, and Taylor Garrison, doing the same in Saturday’s game at Erie. Communication and effective defense are required, as is the role of a leader who played at the this level last season.
To his credit, Sanchez seems much more relaxed and confident. He appears to have seen the proverbial writing on the wall.