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These Yankees players are heading to winter ball with something to prove

Sánchez leads a group of Yankees players who will need to earn their playing time in 2021.

Division Series - New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays - Game Two Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

While the major-league season is over, there is plenty of baseball to be played in 2020. The Dominican Winter League is preparing for its season. and some surprise names from the Yankees’ organization have joined the rosters. How did names like Gary Sánchez, Miguel Andújar and Domingo Germán find themselves in winter ball, and what do they have to gain from their experience there?

When Sánchez broke out in 2016, he probably thought that had seen the last of winter ball. Sánchez had played three seasons in the Dominican Winter League early in his minor-league career, with the last games coming during the winter of 2013-2014.

This past season quickly turned into a disaster for Sánchez, as he struck out 36% of the time while hitting just .147 on the season. Gary often looked lost at the plate, and his strikeout rate increased to 44% during the playoffs, when the Yankees benched him in favor of Kyle Higashioka.

Sánchez will look to regain the form that saw him finish second in Rookie of the Year voting in 2016 and win the Silver Slugger for catchers in 2017. The Yankees have already implied that Sánchez will not be handed the starting catching job in the spring. He will use his opportunity in the Dominican Republic over the next few months to show he’s still part of the youth movement.

Two years after Sánchez finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, Andújar accomplished the same feat. An impressive bat masked numerous defensive deficiencies for the young third baseman.

Injuries sidelined Andújar for much of 2019, leading to the emergence of Gio Urshela, who was coming off his own offseason in the Dominican Winter League. Urshela showed Yankees fans what they had been lacking defensively at the hot corner while at the same time providing an elite bat.

Spring training and summer camp this past year saw Andújar transition to the outfield, a project that yielded mixed results. A slow start with the bat relegated him to the alternate training site for much of the season and not a part of the Yankees postseason plans.

Prior to his 2018 breakout, Andújar played one winter for Gigantes del Cibao where he teamed with Eloy Jimenez and Ketel Marte. The Yankees, and likely numerous other teams, will monitor Andújar’s defensive progress in the coming months. He does not currently have a clear path to regular playing time with the Yankees, not without significant defensive improvement. His number one task will be to improve his defense at either third base or in the outfield.

After 13 months away from organized baseball due to a suspension for a domestic-violence incident, Domingo Germán will return to the playing field for the first time since September 2019 in the Dominican Winter League. Germán, who in a series of Instagram post this summer appeared briefly to be considering walking away from the sport, has since recommitted himself to training leading up to this opportunity.

Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner has not fully committed to the idea of Germán returning to the Yankees saying that the team will finish evaluating that decision when they get a better chance to communicate with him this offseason.

On the baseball side of the equation, Germán was experiencing his best season prior to the suspension. Surprising many in 2019, he established himself as a quality starter in the Yankees’ rotation. Never known as a workhorse innings eater, and coming off a year away from the game the Yankees will certainly want Germán to log some innings early this winter to get a better understanding of where he is heading into the spring.

One of the Yankees’ top prospects is also confirmed in the Dominican Winter League, as Luis Gil will pitch for Tigres del Licey. Gil earned strong reviews from the Yankees coaches after his time at the alternate training site in Scranton. As a member of the 40-man roster, Gil could quickly find himself in the major leagues next season, either as a starter or reliever. The game action over the winter will help give him some more innings as he builds towards a role contributing late into the Yankees’ 2021 season.

Players like Gary Sánchez, Miguel Andújar and Domingo Germán likely thought they had seen the last of winter ball after finding major league success. Different circumstances have brought them back to the Dominican Winter League as they will attempt to improve their major-league circumstances. Now they will have the chance to capitalize on the chance to play out of the limelight and hone their skills.