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The Road to Gary Sanchez, starting catcher for the Yankees

Since signing Sanchez in 2009, the Yankees have had four different starting catchers and a handful of backups.

Toronto Blue Jays v New York Yankees Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

In 2009, the Yankees signed Gary Sanchez as a 16-year-old from the Dominican Republic. Currently, the young catcher, in his seventh season in the Yankees system, has secured the starting catcher position for the Yankees for the foreseeable future. Having hit five home runs with a .389* average in 58 PA this season, the sky seems to be the limit for Sanchez. Through the ups and downs of his career, there hasn’t always been a clear path to the majors for Sanchez. The Yankees have had several starting catchers, prospects, and backups throughout this era. The list below contains the key catchers during Sanchez’s career with the Yankees.

2009/2010 Jorge Posada
As a 16-year-old, Sanchez was far from the major leagues when the iconic Posada was still a top catcher in the league. Posada hit 22 home runs and had a 126 wRC+ in 2009, while still playing above average defense and being worth 2.3 WAR. In 2010, his defense really slipped, but Posada still hit 18 home runs for a 119 wRC+, good for 1.5 WAR.

2011/2012 Russell Martin
Going into 2011, the Yankees knew they couldn’t play Posada at catcher anymore and slotted him at DH. Despite having a top prospect in Jesus Montero (who was admittedly sketchy at defense), the Yankees decided to take a shot on the 28-year-old Russell Martin, signing him to a one-year deal. Martin had once been a promising young player but had struggled before the signing. Martin rewarded the Yankees by hitting 18 home runs with a 100 wRC+, and playing great defense. The Yankees signed Martin to another one-year contact for 2012 and he ended the season, hitting 21 home runs with a 95 wRC+, worth 2.0 WAR.

2013 Chris Stewart
Before the 2013 season, the Yankees were inexplicably outbid by the Pittsburgh Pirates trying to re-sign Russell Martin. With Martin gone, the Yankees started the season with Francisco Cervelli as the starting catcher. Cervelli had performed well as a backup and seemed poised to become a valuable major league player, but his season was cut short by an injury early in the year. In his place, Chris Stewart had 340 plate appearance, playing excellent defense. Unfortunately, Stewart couldn’t hit and only had a 59 wRC+.

2014/2015 Brian McCann
After having started 2013 without a bonafide starting catcher, the Yankees signed perennial All-Star Brian McCann to a five year $85 million contract. McCann hit 23 home runs and played great defense in his first season in pinstripes (worth 2.4 WAR). In 2015, he hit 26 home runs with great defense (worth 2.9 WAR).

2016 Brian McCann/Gary Sanchez
For the current season, the Yankees started the year with McCann firmly in the starting catching spot. The Yankees had hoped for repeat seasons from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, who were revelations in 2015. The gamble, however, didn’t work and the Yankees found themselves nearly out of contention by the trade deadline. They called up Gary Sanchez, who has been so impressive that he has now become the starter moving forward. Even though they still have McCann under contract for two more seasons, it’s a pretty good fit for the Yankees because McCann’s defense has really dropped off this season. The Yankees will most likely have a long leash for Sanchez, given his age and performance so far. The next two seasons, and the remainder of the current one, will see McCann hit mostly as a DH but as a very capable backup catcher.

Trying to replace an All-Star icon in Posada is very difficult, and the Yankees have struggled to do so. But, the depth the organization has had at catcher might have been a blessing for Sanchez, who has needed many years to mature as a player. Despite the missteps upon the way (letting Martin walk and trading Cervelli), the Yankees have put themselves in a position where they have a real lottery ticket at catcher and a great solid veteran backup. In Sanchez can realize any of the potential that the Yankees saw in him as a 16-year-old prospect, the Yankees will be in a good position to get back to the playoffs, fueled by young, cheap players.

*All statistics from Fangraphs.