Building a strong farm system is tough for plenty of reasons. In the MLB Draft, teams have to decide how good hundreds of 18-22 year olds will be at baseball in five to ten years. Essentially, they have to estimate their physical maturity, skill level, athleticism, and plenty of other factors in one fell swoop. For that reason, teams have to see something special in a player to offer him a multi-million dollar signing bonus.
Once in a while, a select few teenagers will garner huge deals. While players form the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico are subject to the MLB draft, players from other countries can sign with any team that shows interest. Furthermore, they can be signed as early as their 16th birthday. For a 16-year-old to reel in seven figures, he really has to show elite tools.
One such individual is Yankees catching prospect Gary Sanchez. In 2009, a 16-year-old Sanchez was signed to the Yankees and given a $3 million signing bonus. He was initially labeled as a monster in batting practice with a cannon for an arm, according to a scouting report from Baseball Prospectus. However, there was reason to believe that he couldn't hit live pitching, partially due to the fact that his agents would occasionally refuse to let scouts watch him hit.
As uncertain as 16-year-old super prospects can be, they have a habit of paying major dividends when chosen correctly. In 1999, the Florida Marlins made waves by dishing out $1.8 million for a Venezuelan shortstop named Miguel Cabrera. Dave Dombrowski, then the General Manager of the Marlins, touted Cabrera as someone who would've been a first round pick if he was eligible for the MLB draft, despite being two years younger than everyone else.
According to Dombrowski, Miggy had an exceptional knack for hitting, but wasn't the fastest runner. Current Tigers GM Al Avila actually said he had the polish to stick at shortstop, which ended up being a slight miscalculation. However, Dombrowski and Avila were spot on in their assessment of Cabrera's bat. Their unwavering belief in Cabrera paid off when they moved to the Detroit Tigers and decided to break the bank to trade for him, as he won the Triple Crown in 2012 and back-to-back MVP's in 2012 and 2013.
Another example of a highly touted prospect came from the same class as Gary Sanchez. In fact, in 2009, Sanchez was considered the second-best prospect, behind shortstop prospect Miguel Sano. Like Miguel Cabrera, Sano was considered to be too big to stick at short, but certainly had sufficient pop in his bat. Unfortunately for Sano, his polish in the batters' box, combined with his appearance made teams skeptical about his age. The Minnesota Twins ended up signing Sano to a $3.15 million deal, a figure that probably would have been higher if there was more certainty surrounding his birth date.
Like Cabrera, Sano has shown the same raw power early on in his career. In 80 games last season, Sano hit 18 home runs. However, he does not have the same ridiculous contact ability as the other Miggy, as he has struck out over 30% of the time so far at the big league level.
Unfortunately, injuries have kept some high-profile prospects from reaching their potential. In 2008, the usually spendthrift Oakland A's gave 6'7" pitching prospect Michael Ynoa a $4.25 million signing bonus, a record at the time. He ended up needing Tommy John surgery and is still working his way up the ladder in the White Sox organization. Former #1 overall prospect Jurickson Profar has encountered similar issues with the Texas Rangers.
When it comes to Gary Sanchez, history appears to be on his side. He has managed to steer clear of major injuries, and has shown the ability to hit live pitching. Since 2012, he has kept his strikeout rate under 20%, boding well for his future contact ability in the big leagues. After a few years of doubts concerning his maturity and motivation to stick at the catcher position, he appears to have put the past behind him. Hopefully, Gary Sanchez is finally here to stay.
Data is courtesy of Fangraphs.