Projecting Yankees Catching Prospect Gary Sanchez

Now that the minor league regular seasons have come to a close, and we’ve reached the ides of September, most of the noteworthy roster-expansion call-ups are behind us. Nearly all of the players who were expected to have substantial impacts on the pennant races came up on the first of the month or shortly thereafter. However, a few more prospects were promoted over the weekend, as minor league clubs were eliminated from their respective playoffs. The most notable of the rookies called up over the weekend was probably Gary Sanchez, a catcher in the Yankees organization.

Sanchez has been on the prospect radar for a few years now, ever since the Yankees gave him a big bonus to sign out of the Dominican as a 16-year-old back in 2009. Sanchez hit an excellent .286/.350/.496 (134 wRC+) over his first three seasons in the minors, but followed it up with a less impressive .261/.329/.405 (107 wRC+) between High-A and Double-A in 2013 and 2014. The primary culprit for the change was a drop-off in power, which manifested itself in substantially lower isolated power figures. However, Sanchez’s pop made a comeback in 2015, during which he split time between the Double-A and Triple-A.

Sanchez

Overall, Sanchez hit .271/.329/.476 (131 wRC+) in the minors this year. He doesn’t walk a ton (7% walk rate), but also doesn’t strikeout all that much either (20% strikeout rate), especially for a guy who hits for a good amount of power. This confluence of skills was enough to get some love from KATOH. My system pegs him for 4.8 WAR through age 28, which makes him the 66th-highest-ranked prospect in baseball. This was a stark improvement over his 2014 forecast of 3.1 WAR. It’s also worth noting that these figures likely underrate Sanchez’s true potential, as the current KATOH model doesn’t directly account for a player’s defensive position, which conspires to underrate catchers. This flaw will be addressed with the next KATOH update, which I will start using this offseason.

Everyone loves a comp, so let’s go ahead and generate a few for Sanchez. Using Sanchez’s league-adjusted stats and his age, I calculated the Mahalanobis distance between Sanchez’s 2015 season, and every Double-A  and Triple-A season since 1990 in which a player recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Below, you’ll find a list of historical players whose performances were nearest and dearest to Sanchez’s, ranked from most to least similar.

Gary Sanchez Statistical Comps
Rank Mah Dist Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
1 0.37 Willis Otanez 231 0.0
2 0.39 Chad Tracy 0 0.0
3 0.54 Jeff Mathis 1,360 0.0
4 0.55 Bobby Higginson 2,755 9.2
5 0.55 Brandon Laird 138 0.0
6 0.59 Don Robinson 0 0.0
7 0.61 Cody Ross 1,653 7.2
8 0.70 Chase Utley 2,419 23.8
9 0.70 Kevin Witt 363 0.0
10 0.79 Michael Almanzar* 0 0.0
11 0.79 Elijah Dukes 970 2.3
12 0.81 Aaron Rowand 2,268 14.2
13 0.82 Matt Mieske 1,061 1.1
14 0.87 Matt Spencer* 0 0.0
15 0.90 Josh Vitters* 109 0.0
16 0.94 Sergio Santos 0 0.0
17 0.99 Butch Huskey 2,277 1.4
18 1.05 Damon Hollins 15 0.0
19 1.08 Jesse Ibarra 0 0.0
20 1.10 Anthony Rizzo* 2,443 13.9
*Yet to play age-28 season

Since the offensive requirements for big league catchers are vastly different than those for other positions, below is a second table which features only those players who made the majority of their starts at catcher.

Gary Sanchez Statistical Comps (Catchers Only)
Rank Mah Dist Name PA thru 28 WAR thru 28
3 0.54 Jeff Mathis 1,360 0.0
21 1.10 Ronny Paulino 1,376 4.2
37 1.27 Guillermo Quiroz 280 0.0
50 1.36 Eli Marrero 1,461 4.7
65 1.47 Chris Widger 1,233 0.0
73 1.52 Willie Morales 11 0.1
103 1.76 Chris O’Brien* 0 0.0
119 1.85 John Baker 656 2.9
125 1.87 Tim Laker 349 0.0
*Yet to play age-28 season

Sanchez’s bat is intriguing, but it’s his defensive potential that could be the real difference-maker for him. The offensive bar for catchers is laughably low, so Sanchez could wind up being mighty valuable if he’s able to play the position adequately in the long term. Sanchez’s defense has always been a question mark, however, largely due to scouts’ concerns about his makeup. As Kiley McDaniel noted in the preseason, Sanchez has the raw tools to catch, including a 70-grade arm, but has historically shown little interest in improving his defense.

On the bright side, Kiley informed me that Sanchez’s attitude, defense and consistency have all been better this year, meaning he should be able to stick at the position, at least. But some scouts are still wary of Sanchez, given his long and frustrating track record of inconsistency. Kiley grades him as a 45+ or 50 FV now, which would make him roughly an average regular at his peak.

After cracking just about every top-100 list from 2011 to 2014, Sanchez’s prospect cachet has faded these past couple of years. He seemed to right the ship in 2015, but he doesn’t have nearly the buzz he did three or four years ago. Still, although his prospect trajectory has been all over the map, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 22. If he were an American-born prospect, he would have been drafted out of high school in 2011, or out of college as recently as 15 months ago.

With Brian McCann and John Ryan Murphy in tow, Sanchez doesn’t figure to have much of a role with the Yankees these next couple of weeks. Barring a trade, the same may be true next season, as well. But everything about Sanchez’s minor league performance suggests his bat is ready for the big leagues, even if he still has a little more to prove defensively. And in time, he stands a good chance of growing into an everyday player.





Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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dl80
6 years ago

Thanks for the projection, Chris. Assuming he doesn’t fall on his face in spring training or early next year in the minors, which of the following do you see as the most likely:

1) Yankees keep him as a backup for McCann. Sanchez gets ~200 at bats filling in and McCann DH’s a little.

2) Yankees use him as a backup C, plus he gets some time at DH and maybe 1B. Sanchez gets ~300 at bats playing the three positions.

3) Yankees move him to a corner outfield spot permanently, or he plays C/1B/DH and LF/RF. Sanchez gets ~400 at bats.

4) Yankees trade him.

5) Yankees leave him to rot in the minor leagues.

james
6 years ago
Reply to  dl80

My guess is a mix of 4 and 5. HE becomes a key piece in a big trade middle of next season (or maybe offseason) that fixes another need.

I could see Miami taking him in return for Koehler, Or a number of other teams willing to give up a mid rotation piece (that the yankees need) for Sanchez. The yankees simply do not have a position to play him for now, and i doubt they let him go for as little as they got for cervelli

DNA+
6 years ago
Reply to  james

Justin Wilson was a good get for a backup catcher. I like Cervelli quite a bit, but that .360 BABIP isn’t going to last forever.

Preston
6 years ago
Reply to  DNA+

Plus they didn’t really have a choice. He was an oft injured player who was out of options and John Ryan Murphy likely to beat him out for the back up job, and it’s not like they were wrong on liking Murphy. He’s probably been one of the best BUC in the league this season, with a .287/.329/.426 batting line and solid defense. And Wilson is the 23rd best reliever by fWAR this season. So 4 years of Wilson for 2 years of a player you had to trade isn’t really a bad deal.

They aren’t in the same boat with Sanchez. He still has two options left. And his bat is good enough that he can compete for ABs with Greg Bird next year if/when A-Rod and Tex get hurt.