A bit of a stir among some was created with the announcement the Yankees had optioned catcher Gary Sanchez to Double-A Trenton last week.
The consensus over the winter was the 22-year-old native of the Dominican Republic would likely advance to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Not so fast for either of two possible reasons:
If the Yankees decide to keep Austin Romine as Brian McCann’s backup, John Ryan Murphy would be optioned to Scranton, playing everyday, with Eddy Rodriguez, who has some big-league experience, the likely backup. There would be little or no playing time for Sanchez.
Sanchez, the Yankees’ No. 5 prospect, according to Baseball America, has played only 133 games at Trenton over the past two seasons. He also was benched for a week in 2014 for some off-the-field issues, and has a lot to learn as far as calling games and working with his pitching staff.
Given Sanchez led the Eastern League among catchers with 17 errors and 10 passed balls, repeating Double-A for another full season is not a bad thing. Perhaps his greatest value to the organization now is as a trade chip in the right deal – and a change of scenery might do Sanchez some good – with the best scenario to improve his attitude and game at Trenton.
There, he can work with a coaching staff that includes two former catchers – hitting coach P.J. Pilittere, who was the epitome of grit and leadership during an eight-season minor-league career in the Yankees system, and catching coach Michel Hernandez, who, even during his 45-game big-league career with the Yankees and Tampa Bay, was strong on fundamentals and defense.
“Sanchez still has tools, and can be a big-league catcher with some power, but he has to get a few things straightened out,” said a scout from an American League team.
That seems to be the present consensus, and certainly Sanchez, depending on other moves, could find himself at Triple-A some time in 2015, but Trenton is his best spot to get back on track to start.
Pilittere, considered a future minor-league managerial candidate by the Yankees, has shown he can relate to players in a positive and thoughtful way. He could work with Sanchez on his hitting, attitude and the importance of relating to a pitching staff, all facets PJ was excellent at as a player.
Hernandez could add the catching expertise, modifying a few of Sanchez’s habits to cut down on the errors and passed balls, some of which were the result of not blocking the plate well, others because of miscommunication. Sanchez has a great arm, but his throws are not always fundamentally sound.
Both Pilittere and Hernandez could stress the importance of bullpen sessions with his pitchers. Sanchez, shall it be noted, did not always take them seriously last season, another issue that led to his suspension. He seemed more focused after being sat down, ending up playing 110 games and hitting .270 (116-for-429) with 13 homers and 65 RBIs. He will always strike out a decent amount, but his plate management could be better.
The recipient of a $3 million bonus in 2009, Sanchez was a heralded prospect. His best season remains 2012, in which he hit 18 homers and drove in 85 runs in 116 games between Class-A stops Charleston and Tampa. Such production has not been seen during his time in Trenton.
Sanchez will determine where his career goes from here. Luis Torrens, who will miss 2015 due to a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery, is now talked of as the up-and-coming catcher in the Yankees system. Sanchez has a chance to reclaim such status.
That is if he “straightens a few things out”