TAMPA, Fla. — Yankees fans for years heard about hyped prospects Luis Severino and Greg Bird, and were excited to finally see the pair not only have their big-league debuts last season but produce as well.
Catching prospect Gary Sanchez could be the next such prospect to make that leap.
“The tools are unquestionable with Gary Sanchez,” Yankees vice president of player development Gary Denbo said Tuesday. “His throwing stands out. His arm strength, you can grade it with anybody in Major League Baseball right now. We expect big things from Gary . . . Josh Paul, our catching coordinator, will tell you he’s ready to catch in the major leagues. Whether he’s 100 percent ready to go remains to be seen but we certainly like where he is.”
Sanchez, signed by the Yankees for $3 million at the age of 16 out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, certainly appears on the cusp of the majors.
The 23-year-old, who started last season with Double-A Trenton and finished it at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, where he had a .295/.349/.500 slash line with six homers and 26 RBIs in 35 games, is the favorite to capture the backup catcher job.
Though Brian Cashman said last week, “he’ll have to earn it,” there’s no question the Yankees are, to take another phrase from the GM, “dreaming big” on Sanchez.
After a successful 2015, one in which Sanchez totaled 18 homers and 62 RBIs for Trenton and Scranton, the 6-2, 230-pound catcher tore up the Arizona Fall League. He had a league-leading seven homers and a .982 OPS that ranked fourth.
“He’s ready,” one opposing team’s talent evaluator said of Sanchez shortly after the AFL season ended. “I have no problem with him being a No. 1 catcher [in the majors]. Especially with a guy that’s got that kind of power.”
The questions surrounding Sanchez have never been about his bat. Rather, they’ve been about his defense and his attitude. Sanchez has been suspended twice, once in 2011 while with Class-A Charleston for insubordination and again in 2014 with Trenton for an undisclosed reason. Trenton manager Tony Franklin said at the time it was a “disciplinary action.”
But a switch seemed to flip on in 2015 for Sanchez, who was aided, Denbo said, by Paul and Michel Hernandez, a minor-league catching instructor who worked extensively with Sanchez in Trenton.
“Those guys working together, helped put Gary back on the right path to taking advantage of his tool set,” Denbo said. “With him coming into camp in such good shape, we’re very optimistic about him having a good year.”
There are other minor leaguers besides Sanchez the Yankees believe could make it to the Bronx this year. Denbo mentioned top outfield prospect Aaron Judge and managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner a couple of times this offseason mentioned righthander James Kaprielian, the 16th overall pick of last year’s draft. Both will be in big-league camp this spring, along with other top prospects such as shortstops Tyler Wade and Jorge Mateo.
“He’s a guy that athletically and physically he’s very gifted,” Denbo said of Kaprielian. “We’ll see how he’s able to develop, but I think this camp is going to be very valuable to him.”
Jeter sighting. This is the second year Denbo has put on the “Captain’s Camp” for many of the club’s prospects in the hopes of developing leadership skills. Andy Pettitte spoke to the group Monday afternoon and Derek Jeter, who lives in the area, took the group to dinner Monday night. Alfonso Soriano, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Tino Martinez and Alex Rodriguez have also spoken at the camp.