It goes without saying that New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez is entering the 2021 Major League Baseball season with a certain amount of pressure on his shoulders.
The 28-year-old backstop is coming off the worst season — albeit a shortened one — of his career, slashing .147/.253/.365 with 10 home runs, 24 RBI, and 64 strikeouts in 49 games.
It was the third-straight alarming season at the plate for Sanchez, who once entered the 2018 season with the reputation of being one of the Yankees’ best all-around bats.
That’s been the furthest from the case. The power is there, but not much else — especially the defense.
In 244 games over the last three seasons, Sanchez owns a .200 batting average, 283 strikeouts, and an OPS of just .748 despite posting a 162-game average of 42 home runs and 103 RBI.
There was chatter following the 2020 season that the Yankees were ready to move on from Sanchez. It would have been the perfect time to do so considering the free-agent market for catchers was as good as it will be for some time with both JT Realmuto and James McCann on the market.
But the Yankees look to be giving Sanchez at least one more chance with arbitration awaiting after this season before unrestricted free agency.
So far the numbers have been promising in spring training with two of his three hits in nine at-bats coming via the long ball.
An entirely limited sample size to take any stock out of, especially in spring training, but the work Sanchez has put in seems to be resonating well with his teammates.
“He does seem very focused in his early work,” DJ LeMahieu said. “Out to prove that he’s Gary Sanchez and he’s one of the best catchers in the league.”
Aaron Judge thinks that Sanchez could even be one of the best players in the American League.
“Gary’s a guy that can go out there and win AL MVP,” Judge said. “He’s that dynamic and that important of a player to this team.”
If he were to come anywhere near those expectations, the Yankees suddenly have their bona fide bat back in the middle of the lineup to add further support to the likes of LeMahieu, Judge, and Giancarlo Stanton.
But it’s going to have to take a little more than spring training to convince the baseball world that Sanchez can revert back to his former All-Star self.