Gary Sánchez has only played four seasons in the majors, but his name is already inscribed in the New York Yankees’ record book, the franchise with the most titles in the history of the majors.
At 26, this Dominican player seems to have all the tools to become, if injuries allow, the most offensive receiver of all time.
No one disputes the power of his wrists, and the hits he drives far into the field compensate for some defensive weaknesses.
In 2009, when Gary Sanchez was only 17 years old, the Yankees signed him as an amateur free agent. In the next five years, this promising Dominican player was formed in the minor league system of the so-called “Manhattan Mules”.
He started at the bottom, in category A, with the Charleston RiverDogs and the Tampa Yankees; he was then promoted to the Double A and played in the Trenton Thunder until he was promoted to Scranton / Wilkes-Barre, of the Triple A.
At the end of the 2015 season, he got a shot to debut in the Major League. He didn’t do much that day and, the following year, he didn’t start on the main team either.
Sánchez, the Boost that the Yankees were Looking For
Things were not going well for the Yankees in 2016, so the then team director, Joe Girardi, decided to give Sanchez a chance in August. Gary Sánchez’s impact was immediate. In his first 23 games he shot 31 hits, 11 of which were home runs.
Never before in the more than one hundred-year-old history of the Majors has a player achieved these figures. In just 53 games, Gary shot 20 home runs and drove 42 runs. His spectacular performance made him finish second the list of the best rookies of the year of the American League, only surpassed by the pitcher of the Detroit Tigers, Michael Fulmer.
From that moment on, his starting position as the Yankees’ catcher was unquestionable. In 2017, Sánchez showed that what happened a year earlier had not been a coincidence.
During that season he was barely able to play 122 games, because the injuries began to affect him, but he had enough chances at bat to connect 33 home runs, and with that figure he set a record.
Until then, only two receivers in the rich history of the Yankees had reached 30 home runs in a year: Yogi Berra, in 1952 and 1956, and Jorge Posada, in 2003.
Sanchez participated in his first All-Star Game, played in the home run Derby and won the Silver Bat, for being the most offensive catcher in the American League.
In addition to the 33 home runs, he drove 90 runs, had an OBP of 345 and a 531 slugging percentage, even though his weak point continued to be his defense, since he ended with the most amount of passballs in the two leagues.
The Yankees advanced to the postseason and lost the championship final against the Houston Astros in seven games. The Dominican did not deliver the expected performance, since he only averaged 208, with three homers.
After a decade at the helm of the Yankees, Joe Girardi was surprisingly fired at the end of the 2017 season. His place was taken by Aaron Boone who kept Gary Sánchez as the starting receiver, although nothing seemed to be working for the Dominican that year.
A Year of Records for Gary Sánchez
Gary started badly and ended worse. He went through the list of injured twice, so he barely intervened in 89 games, where he only averaged 186. His home run production dropped to 18 and the total number of drives was 53. His defensive problems were more visible and he went back to being the receiver with more passballs in the majors.
The Dominican arrived to the training camps prior to the 2019 season, surrounded by many uncertainties. Which side of him would we witness this year, the offensive phenomenon or the frustrated baseball player?
From the beginning, Sanchez made it clear that his poor performance of 2018 was a thing of the past. The injuries continued to bother him and robbed him of playing time; but he managed to maintain a stable performance and received his second invitation to the All-Star Game.
On August 23, in his Major League match No.355, Sanchez reached the mark of 100 homers. This fact was immediately highlighted in the headlines because the Dominican became the second fastest player to reach that round number of home runs in the majors. He was only behind the already retired slugger Ryan Howard who drove 100 balls out of the stadium in just 325 games.
A few days later, Sanchez made the news again. In a game against the Texas Rangers he shot his home runs 33 and 34 of the season, leaving behind the record he had set in 2017.
Everything seemed to be ready for the Dominican to break the mark of more homers for a receiver in the American League, which was held by Carleton Fisk, with 37. There was also a possibility for Sanchez to leave behind Johnny Bench’s record as the catcher with more home runs in a major league campaign, with 45; however, his biggest foe reappeared: a groin injury that drove him away from active play for almost a month.
The Yankees are among the favorite teams to win the World Series; but they know that to get closer to that goal they need Sánchez to be in full physical shape.
The Dominican is just now celebrating his first five years with the “Manhattan Mules” and has already achieved higher statistics, within the same period of time, as big catchers who played for the Yankees, such as Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey, Thurman Munson, Elston Howard and Jorge Posada.
Latino receivers have historically stood out for their extraordinary defensive ability. Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez is already in Cooperstown and another Puerto Rican, Yadier Molina, has a guaranteed spot in the Hall of Fame. Gary Sánchez has had his share of setbacks, but he meets all the conditions to enter the Temple of the Immortals for what he can do with the bat in his hands.