Just four weeks ago, Gary Sánchez was little more than a promising 23-year old prospect in the farm system of the New York Yankees.
He spent nearly the entirety of the 2016 season playing for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders of the Class AAA International League, save for one game in May where he was called up to the majors (he went 0-4 that day, and was sent right back down to AAA after the game).
Now, in late August, with the season essentially being all but meaningless for the Bronx Bombers, Sánchez is the biggest reason for Yankees fans to come out to games.
Who wants to miss seeing the hottest young star in baseball right now?
What Sánchez is doing right now is history-making on so many levels. In 284 at-bats with the Triple-A RailRiders, Sánchez only hit 10 home runs. In his last 61 at-bats since August 10th, Sanchez has hit 11 home runs. Prior to this weekend, he joined George Scott (1966) and Colorado’s Trevor Story (earlier this season) as the only players in baseball history to hit 10 home runs in their first 22 games. His 11th home run — coming in the Yankees 13-5 win over the Orioles on Saturday — led to his first curtain call as a Yankee; the fans recognized Sanchez for becoming the first player in MLB history with at least 11 HR and 31 hits in his first 23 career games.
His 11 home runs this month represent the most in one calendar month by an American League rookie since Mark McGwire hit 15 in May of 1987, as a member of the Oakland Athletics. Over the last decade, Sánchez and Alex Rodriguez (2007) are the only players on the Yankees to hit nine home runs in a 10 game stretch. He also tied former Yankee Hideki Matsui for the second most RBI in franchise history through 23 games; only Joe Dimaggio (25) had more.
But the most important part of Sánchez’s streak might actually have nothing to do with his hitting. As Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter commented after Saturday’s game, the impressive part of his skill set is his defense as a catcher. Showalter saw Sánchez throw out would-be stealer Julio Borbon in the fourth inning. That was the sixth time he’s picked off a baserunner in nine tries. Yankees manager Joe Girardi talked more about Sánchez play as a catcher — his receiving, blocking, game calling, and arm strength — as opposed to the hitting streak. He maintained that Sánchez skills were always evident, and that he simply needed more time in the majors to really let those skills blossom. Sánchez’s teammates have agreed with Girardi’s assessment, also stating how Sánchez appears to get better nearly every game.
It’s funny how everything can change over the course of just a few months. In April, Sánchez was competing to make the Yankees’ Opening Day roster, as a backup catcher to Brian McCann. In August, he has leapfrogged McCann to become the Yankees’ starting catcher. Instead of finishing out the year in the minor leagues, he’s the Yankees regular No. 3 hitter, having won AL Player of the Week this month, and setting a bunch of records for a team as hallowed as the Yankees.
Given how rounded his game really is, this is far more than a flash in the pan. The Yankees’ 2016 season might not have gone the way they hoped, but the emergence of Gary Sánchez gives them reason to be optimistic about 2017.
Photo Credit: Bryan