[This first report was published in February of 2010]
The New York Yankees signed catcher Gary Sanchez for $3 million as their top International free agent in 2009 out of the Dominican Republic. He has yet to play an official minor league game, but already his offensive game has been compared to the top position prospects in the organization and his defensive skills to some of the elite catchers in the farm system.
Name: Gary Sanchez
DOB: December 2, 1992
Sanchez, who just turned 17 years old this offseason, has an advanced hitting approach and plus power to all fields, even conjuring up images of current top prospect Jesus Montero.
"He's in that neighborhood," Yankees senior vice president Mark Newman said. "He really impressed us with his ability to see the breaking ball, to lay off bad breaking balls, to use the field as a hitter, and defensively he's ahead of Montero.
"It's hard to be ahead of Montero as a hitter, but Gary looked pretty dang good."
While it remains to be seen if he can match Montero's offensive production, what makes Sanchez so special already is his raw defensive skills.
"He's a very, very special player," Yankees catching coordinator Julio Mosquera said. "He has a tremendous arm and he's been able to learn so much in a little bit of time. He's just developed.
"His baseball instincts are pretty good. He's a smart 16-year old. He receives the ball pretty good. He has improved a lot on his throwing, just getting better times and being quicker."
Sanchez, who grew up a third baseman until the last couple of years, knows that for him to reach his potential it means developing his defensive game further.
"Batting-wise I've been taking my cuts, but I've been mainly working on my defense," Sanchez said through the help of a translator. "I've been working on my movements to second base and getting my hands a little softer behind the plate to receive better.
"I've improved a lot. Everything I've done defensively has improved."
While Montero continues to have his defensive game questioned, nobody questions Sanchez's defensive foundation. In fact, he has impressed nearly everyone with how quickly he has gotten better since he first signed.
"His hitting is obviously very advanced," GCL Yankees catcher J.R. Murphy said. "Playing-wise I've seen a lot of improvements just from the times I've seen him play. I see him a lot more comfortable behind the plate, receiving-wise and footwork-wise. It's pretty impressive."
Boasting power in the Montero range and both the athleticism and arm strength of Austin Romine, the Yankees believe Sanchez could be a unique player when it's all said and done.
"He's a pretty special young guy," Mosquera added. "I think he's going to be a super player because all of the tools he has at 16, I'm going to tell you right now, I've never seen anything like that even when I played."
Batting and Power. There are striking offensive similarities between Sanchez and Montero. Like Montero, Sanchez has elite bat speed, a short and compact swing, he uses the whole field, and he has a very good idea of the strike zone. They are not carbon copies though because his power grades slightly below Montero's, especially to the opposite field. And Montero was a better breaking ball hitter at similar stages in their careers. On the plus side though, Sanchez's swing mechanics are more advanced at the same point.
Base Running and Speed. Sanchez is very athletic for such a solidly built player. He has below average speed overall and he won't be an impact runner on the bases, but he has enough speed to swipe a base here and there and he won't hurt his team in the running game.
Defense. About the only similarity on the defensive side of the ball between Sanchez and Montero is with their plus arm strength. That's where it ends though. Sanchez is a ton more athletic and shows infinitely better footwork. In fact Sanchez has the athleticism of a basketball player. He still has some work to do receiving the ball, but that is the case with most young catchers. His athleticism should keep him at the position long-term.
Projection. At the start of his career, Sanchez is a Montero-Romine hybrid and that's a great recipe for future success. His ceiling is that of a starting big league catcher who could hit in the heart of the order and possess top-end defensive abilities. He has a lot of work to do to reach such levels, but the foundation is very special. Though he doesn't have the same switch-hitting ability, Sanchez has the chance to compare favorably to Orioles catcher Matt Wieters as a plus two-way catcher someday if he reaches his potential.
ETA. 2014. Sanchez will most likely begin his professional career in the Gulf Coast League in 2010.
[This second scouting report section was published back in March of this year]
Batting and Power. Statistically Sanchez has been a bit of an enigma offensively during his minor league career. Nearly everything about his approach and style suggests eventual high-average hitter and high on-base guy; above average patience, solid plate discipline and pitch recognition, high contact rate and rather low strikeout ratio for a slugging type, and an ability to use the whole field. However, despite the patient approach he hasn't been a high walks guy yet and while the career .274 average is more than solid it is a bit lower production-wise than he's capable of achieving. Perhaps a bit too overzealous at times to make better use of his above average or better power potential and therefore getting a little too pull-happy, he's at his best when he doesn't worry about hitting for power and employs a line-drive, hit-first mentality consistently. He has everything in place to be a high-average hitter, he just needs to stay within himself more often. Approaching a .300 average with 30-plus home run potential is absolutely not out of the question when he's going right, he has the kind of natural ability.
Base Running and Speed. Being both a catcher and slugger normally suggests well below average running abilities but that is not the case with Sanchez as he is a bit more athletic and nimble than most backstops. He's a solid station to station runner for a heart of the order hitter and he'll even swipe the occasional base when pitchers underestimate him. He's not much of a factor running the bases overall but he won't clog them up either and that is another feather in his cap tools-wise.
Defense. For years Sanchez has always been vastly underrated defensively for seemingly no apparent reason. His best tool by far is his plus arm strength and consistently accurate arm, and he even shows quick transfers too, often times clocking around 1.8 seconds on throws to second base [putting him in elite company]. A solid blocker and receiver too, two areas of his game often times wildly exaggerated by his critics as deficiencies, physically he is above average in nearly way defensively. It's on the mental side, however, where he's made the most progress over the years. Once perceived to lack the desire to catch, that aspect of his game is no longer in question. He not only wants to be behind the plate but he wants to excel there and it consistently shows in his play in recent seasons. The whole package combines to give him above average or better defensive potential behind the plate long-term just as long as he keeps up on his conditioning [he has the type of physical frame that needs constant attention] and the inner competitive fire doesn't burn out. He can be as good as he wants to be, plain and simple.
Projection. Being as good as he wants to be isn't just relegated to the defensive side of the ball. With his kind of above average patience, pitch recognition, and plate discipline, as well as above average or better power potential while throwing in above average defensive abilities too, Sanchez really has just begun scratching the surface of his long-term potential. He hasn't shown that kind of consistent above average production to date, however, and a big reason for that is the longer time it has taken for him to realize that top-shelf talent alone doesn't make a great player -- consistent hard work is needed too. He has made marked strides in that regard over the past couple of seasons to the point where his work ethic is no longer questioned. Still, sustaining the flames of his inner fire over a longer period of time will absolutely be needed for him to fulfill his big league All Star potential on both sides of the ball. He has the natural talent to be a difference-making impact player both offensively and defensively, he just happens to be a guy won't be able to let up, one who will have to make practicing and improving a higher priority in his craft.
ETA. N/A. Sanchez made his big league debut last season, albeit just for a couple of at-bats. While his entire game is big league ready right now and a solid case could be made to hand him the big league backup catcher's spot in 2016, the better plan has him gaining a bit more experience back in Triple-A. He should begin the season in Scranton as the everyday starting catcher to further prove his motivation question marks are behind him and he will be the first one called up to the Bronx should the need for a catcher arise. A bit more minor league seasoning should have him primed for a bigger big league impact by the following season.