At 25 years old, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is a bonafide hitting star, and if he is able to take the next step behind the dish, he could be on his way to be becoming the best all-around catcher in the game.
Sanchez entered the 2017 season riding an amazing two-month stint in 2016 in which he hit 20 homes runs in 53 games. With the tools of ignorance on in 2016, Sanchez turned in highlight-reel throws to the bases to nail baserunners (41 percent caught stealing rate), and as a whole, we could see he had the potential to be an above-average defensive catcher. The question surrounding Sanchez was what we could truly expect as an encore.
He did not disappoint with the bat in his hands in his first full season, hitting .278 with a .345 on-base percentage and .531 slugging percentage in 523 plate appearances. Sanchez launched 20 doubles, 33 home runs, collected 90 RBIs, and recorded a 130 wRC+. The astounding part to the counting stats for Sanchez was that he missed 21 games with a Grade-1 strain of the muscle behind his right biceps within the club's first 26 contests.
While Sanchez proved his two-month offensive outburst in 2016 was no fluke, he did take a step back when he was behind the plate. Sanchez continued to throw out baserunners at a fine 38 percent clip, far outpacing the MLB average (27 percent). However, he led all of baseball with 16 passed balls, and pitchers were also charged with 53 wild pitches while he was receiving.
The collective belief was that Sanchez was not locked in while catching, and some went further, suggesting he was being lazy behind the plate. My perception was that Sanchez was not so much a lazy player, but rather he was not adequately prepared for pitches that he knew were going to be down in the dirt. He failed on numerous occasions to shift his body to block pitches, instead trying to back hand them. Whether immediately or eventually, the passed balls and wild pitches often led to runs that may have not have scored otherwise.
The most interesting twist to Sanchez's defensive lapses was the fact that he is fully capable of quickly moving laterally, as he displayed many times over the season. There was some speculation that he may have been dealing with limited mobility due to an unreported lower body injury, however, he never let on that was the case.
Sanchez is a natural at the plate. He owns a solid batting eye (8.5 percent walk rate in MLB career), and while he can get pull happy on occasion, he seems to be able to correct his mechanics and approach quickly when they've been thrown offline. Sanchez is not immune to slumps, but he will likely have more stretches of superior production than skids. If he receives about 580 plate appearances, another 30+ home run season with a .285/.350/.530 slash line and his first 100-RBI campaign are well within reach.
Sanchez will have to concentrate on the catching aspect of his game. He can put aside all of the criticism by displaying consistent defensive effort. Sanchez is an athletic individual, he simply has to use that to his advantage when behind the plate.
Sanchez will ultimately be measured on his overall game and rightfully so. Regardless of how potent his bat can be, he will have to limit the number of passed balls and aid his pitchers by disallowing as many wild pitches as possible.
If Sanchez makes the necessary adjustments and maintains the dominant parts of his game, he could be among the names mentioned in MVP discussions at the end of the 2018 season.