Entering the 2014 season, the Yankees did not have many prospects in their organization who were widely acclaimed around baseball. Indeed, several Top 100 Prospects lists only had one Yankees prospect on them: 21-year-old catcher Gary Sanchez. That does not really speak well for the organization's minor league system, and what's worse is that so far, Sanchez has spent 2014 sinking his prospect status.
Sanchez was signed out of the Dominican Republic as a 16-year-old in 2009 for $3 million, one of the largest bonuses the Yankees have ever offered. Much like Jesus Montero, Sanchez was seen as a big bat the Yankees could stick behind the plate and train to learn the position. While that did not work out with Montero, it was believed that Sanchez had more of a chance to stick there. After tearing up the Rookie League with a .353/.419/.597 triple slash and putting forth a fine showing in a 16-game cameo with Staten Island in 2010, Sanchez immediately jumped to the Top 30 Prospects in all of baseball prior to the 2011 season for both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus. He has never ranked any better.
Since 2010, Sanchez has gradually moved up in the Yankees' system out of A-Ball, from Charleston to Tampa in July 2012 and from Tampa to Double-A Trenton last August. His hitting numbers have been steady, though he has not exceeded a 120 wRC+ since his move to High-A in 2012. Nonetheless, he did lead minor league catchers in home runs that year with 18. Behind the plate though, he's remained a question mark, as Jesse noted in his pre-2014 prospect profile on Sanchez:
Depending on who you ask, Sanchez is either getting "better" behind the plate or is still "an absolutely atrocious receiver." Personally, I think I might side with Mike Ashmore's take on Sanchez, given he covered the Thunder on a daily basis. What most agree on, though, is Sanchez's arm, which is an absolute cannon. He threw out 44% of attempted base-stealers, and some say he even has an 80-grade throwing arm.
No matter how good Sanchez's arm is, however, he will need to improve his receiving skills while he's still in the minors so he can stick behind the plate long-term. He was kept in Tampa for longer than most wanted so he could improve said receiving abilities, mainly with catching harder-throwing pitchers. Sanchez also yielded 13 passed balls in his 96 games behind the plate. For reference, Chris Stewart allowed 12 passed balls in 108 games behind the dish last season for New York, so you know Sanchez has some room for improvement in that area.
It's a very mixed review, to be generous, and it's not helped by the fact that scouts have observed makeup issues with Sanchez in the past. Entering the season, Sanchez still had plenty of work to do on defense before he could even be remotely considered for a major league job, a factor which was surely part of the Yankees' decision-making process to sign Brian McCann to a five-year deal in the off-season.
Unfortunately, the 2014 campaign has thus far brought out the worst in Sanchez's habits. He hit a promising .250/.364/.380 with a 113 wRC+ in 23 games with Trenton last year, but those numbers have dipped somewhat to a .246/.322/.406 triple slash with a 101 wRC+ in 54 games. His power is up due to his seven homers, not a bad figure considering Trenton's spacious Arm & Hammer Park, but the plate discipline he improved upon in 2013 has taken a turn for the worse. Sanchez has gone from an 11.8% walk rate to 9.9%, and his strikeout rate has jumped from 14.5% to 18.0%. More concerning is the fact that Sanchez hasn't hit since April, when he registered a .316/.388/.487 triple slash in 19 games. Since then, he's slumped to a .206/.289/.359 batting line in 35 games and 148 plate appearances. Sanchez is trending the wrong way at the plate. The reviews on his defense haven't really improved, despite a good arm with a 40% caught stealing rate, he's committed six passed balls, which ties for the league lead. The Thunder have also uncorked an Eastern League-high 49 wild pitches, and while that can partly be blamed on the pitching staff, better defensive catchers are typically able to exercise some degree of control over it through superior blocking skills.
Perhaps most concerning about Sanchez's 2014 so far though has been his work ethic. On June 12th, Sanchez was benched by manager Tony Franklin for five games due to an undisclosed offense:
Catcher Gary Sanchez missed his second-straight game Thursday due to disciplinary action. After the game, he had a closed-door meeting with Franklin.
Though Franklin didn’t specify Sanchez’s violation, he did say that he could be held out again going forward.
"It was disciplinary action," Franklin said. "I needed to take care of that today, to get things clarified and cleared up. I’m not going to tell you what it was, but it was a violation of some of our guidelines and I needed to take care of it. Gary is out of there for a couple of days until we decide he deserves to play again, plain and simple."
-- The Trentonian, Nick Peruffo
Although we have no way of knowing what exactly Sanchez did, it had to be pretty bad for Sanchez to be benched for five whole games. In 2008 under Franklin, Jose Tabata was suspended three games for leaving the ballpark in the middle of a game. For Sanchez to have suffered an even longer benching under the same manager does not bode well for what he did.
Sanchez is still a kid who is at least three years younger than most of his competition at Double-A, but the Yankees have to be concerned with his production to date in 2014. It's not doing anything to boost his future hopes, or his status as a potential trade chip. They can only hope that Franklin's talk with Sanchez the other day will turn his season around; otherwise, the Yankees might be looking at yet another disappointing catching prospect.