In a matter of three seasons, Gary Sanchez has gone from "Future catcher of the Yankees" to "Catcher for the Yankees" to "Should he be catching for the Yankees?"
Sanchez endured an utterly terrible 2018 season in all respects of the game. He couldn't hit, seemingly got worse at his position and once again had his effort questioned. He will turn 26 years old in December, so this is not about a player that is heading past his prime, but rather a player that has the talent to put it all together and become a superstar.
Sanchez appeared on his way to superstardom behind a booming bat, as he launched 53 home runs in his first two big league seasons (175 games, 754 plate appearances). His offensive display was more than enough for many to tolerate some defensive lapses behind the plate.
Of course, part of that thought was that Sanchez would improve as a catcher. He hasn't. And here we are questioning whether he should be the starting catcher when the Yankees take the field on Opening Day.
Let's dig into the reasons why Sanchez will be the Yankees starting catcher in 2019.
Who else is going to do it?
Please do not respond "Austin Romine."
The Yankees backup catcher is exactly that, a backup catcher. Romine had a fine season, boosted by a hot stretch at the beginning. However, as is the case for many backup catchers, once they play on a regular basis -- as he did when Sanchez was out for several weeks in the summer -- you begin to understand why they don't hold the starter's role.
The Yankees do not have anyone ready to make a splash in the minor leagues and with all the larger issues surrounding the club, they are not going to be wasting resources to find a new catcher.
Sanchez is 26, providing time for improvement
We've been talking about Sanchez for nine years now (he was signed as an international free agent in 2009), which often makes it seem like he's much older than he is. He might never be a top-flight catcher, but he can still learn and improve.
One of the knocks on Sanchez is that he is "lazy" behind the plate, which is believed to be the main reason leading to passed balls (a league-leading 18 in 2018) and the inability to prevent wild pitches. However, Sanchez's issues stem from being slow to change the method in which he receives the ball. It is as if Sanchez has not had enough reps to turn instinct into habit. He has not learned to drop and shift side to side to block balls on a consistent basis, but rather is still very instinctive at times, deploying backhanded stabs that don't work often enough.
Keep in mind that Sanchez improved in the area of catch-framing in 2018, saving 3.3 runs above average according to StatCorner's measurements. And he possesses an above-average arm. If Sanchez can exchange a majority of those backhand attempts on balls int the dirt into chest blocking, he could at least be considered an average defensive catcher.
The bat can still be elite
Did we mention Sanchez will play next season at age 26?
For as poor as his results were at the plate in 2018 (86 OPS+), everything he had done up until that point from an offensive perspective had been fantastic. Sanchez was lethal in the middle of the Yankees lineup, posting a 138 OPS+ before the start of the 2018 season.
A brief look at Sanchez's peripherals point to some bad luck with batted balls as he hit just .197 on balls in play (.307 career mark before 2018). He actually demonstrated a better eye at the plate this season as well, with a walk rate of 12.3 percent after having a career mark of 8.5 percent.
This could lead us to believe that the 2018 season -- from an offensive standpoint -- was an outlier season and that he can easily bounce back to form as a hitter in 2019.
By many accounts in the Yankees' organization, Sanchez is a harder worker than he is given credit for by outsiders. That said, the time to demonstrate that with results on defense is certainly nearing, if not already here.
Should Sanchez revert back to his stellar offensive production while curtailing defensive lapses ,he may once again be labeled, "Future catcher of the Yankees." As of now, Sanchez should without a doubt be the Yankees starting catcher for 2019. We can then see how future plays out.