The 2016 Yankee team that was supposed to free fall after the trade deadline saw Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman leave for playoff-bound clubs. Instead, the Bombers surged in August and September, eventually falling just a few late blown leads away from a playoff berth.
The main reason for this surprising streak was Gary Sanchez. After the deadline, Yankee fans were probably more excited to see the likes of Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin than Sanchez, who made a cameo in 2015, going 0-4 against Chris Sale in his Major League debut.
But it was Sanchez who caught fire and captivated a fanbase that was in desperate need of a homegrown star to rally around.
A Yankee farmhand since 2010, Sanchez impressed in both major facets of the game. His most noticeable contribution was the catcher’s incredible 20 home runs in 53 games. In one torrid week in August, he smashed seven home runs. Fans and broadcasters alike were doling out one of the greatest compliments a player can receive, claiming that the ball just sounded different off his bat.
Sanchez’s signature moment of 2016 was when he shot an intentional ball some 390 feet into the deepest part of Yankee Stadium. This brought back memories of Vladimir Guerrero, who would hit literally anything in his sight. The ball was caught at the warning track, but Sanchez had made his mark. Everyone was quick to give Sanchez’ free-swinging attitude a free pass; we were all caught up in a unprecented debut.
He also wowed on the other side of the ball, adjusting quickly to the Yankee pitchers. Sanchez soon became Michael Pineda‘s personal catcher. His throws to second base were undoubtedly more accurate than Pineda’s fastball. Opposing runners were nabbed 13 times by Sanchez, out of a total 29 attempts. That’s a .598 clip, better than Buster Posey’s .627 and Matt Wieters’ .652.
While many were enthralled with Sanchez’s all-around talents, there were others warning of Kevin Maas. Maas, who caught for the Yankees in the early 90’s, hit 21 homers in 79 games during his debut season in 1990. Over his next three seasons, Mass managed only 23 home runs while catching 308 games.
Zooming out from the madness, one can find some flaws in Sanchez’s game.S anchez was fed a steady diet of fastballs and hanging curveballs in his first month, but pitchers soon adjusted and treated him like a veteran at the plate. After hitting .389 in August, he managed a meager .225 mark for the rest of the season. His on-base percentage dropped more than 100 points to a below league average .314 mark.
As for defense, there’s no reason to believe he will not be an above-average defender in his second year. Sanchez’s six passed balls are a bit high, but it’s likely a product of having to learn a new rotation of hurlers on the fly. Catching a Dellin Betances, who can follow up a 99 MPH fastball with an 83 MPH curveball, is not an easy task.
In 2017, Sanchez faces much more pressure. In 2016, the Yankees were playing with house money, not expecting much from Sanchez, or any of their young prospects, for that matter.
Now, the skates are higher. Veteran catcher Brian McCann is gone, leaving Sanchez alone in the bright New York City lights.
If anyone can handle the pressure, it’s Sanchez. He’s been raised for seven years in a Yankee organization that promotes humility and teaches patience.
Does Gary Sanchez have flaws? Certainly. But, that won’t stop him from improving and being an above-average receiver for years to come. Enjoy the ride, Yankee fans.