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Fantasy Baseball Prospects: Keeper Leagues Take Note of Gary Sanchez

Gary Sanchez has solidified himself as one of the top catching prospects in baseball.

Gary Sanchez
Gary Sanchez

New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

When RHP Michael Pineda was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees in exchange for catcher Jesus Montero before the 2012 season, the Yankees were able to make that trade because of a free agent signing the team made in 2009. The signing was Dominican catcher Gary Sanchez, who has since solidified himself as one of the top catching prospects in baseball.

Background

Sanchez was signed out of the Dominican during the 2009 season and finished the year in his home country. Sanchez would start the 2010 season in rookie ball, splitting his time between there and Low-A, where he would finish the season.

It was a rough first year for Sanchez, who admitted he was going through an adjustment period. That’s something that probably gets lost pretty easily; players coming from Dominican, Cuba, or other Latin American countries, while they are playing pro baseball down there, they are not facing near the quality of opponents they do when they come to their minor league/major league team. Especially those coming as teenagers, and not polished professional hitters like Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, and Yasiel Puig.

Catchers typically need a lot more experience in the minor leagues to develop into their talent than other non-pitchers. Not only do they have to learn how to handle themselves at the plate at a proficient enough rate to justify being an everyday starter, they need to learn how to handle their own staffs. The ability for a catcher to call a game, frame pitches, throw out base runners, footwork, and other duties, are generally emphasized for prospect catchers. Without a proficient defensive game, a catcher has little chance of regular playing time at the MLB level.

That’s why Sanchez is a case where the development time may need to continue a bit more. From Marc Hulet of FanGraphs this past offseason:

…Behind the plate, Sanchez has made improvements with his game calling and receiving, but the big-framed catcher still struggles with his blocking and overall mobility. He has a very strong arm and gunned down close to 50-percent of base runners attempting to steal against him in 2013.

That was the knock on Sanchez over his years in the minor leagues; his ability behind the plate lagged far behind his ability at the plate. Being a 20-plus HR catcher is all well and good, but as JP Arencibia showed, if the abilities behind the plate aren’t there, playing time will get scarce (the historically bad OBP didn’t help much, either).

Sanchez spent about three full seasons’ worth of ABs at different A-ball levels, an indication that his talents as a catcher weren’t living up to his talents as a hitter. There is a reason, though, why Hulet ranked Sanchez as the top Yankees prospect, and both Baseball American and MLB had him as a top-50 prospect coming into this year (Baseball Prospectus was more bearish on him). That reason is he can hit, and he’s getting better at it:

2010(195 PAs, Rookie Ball & Low-A) 2011(343 PAs, A-Ball) 2012(474 PAs, A-ball and High-A) 2013(509 PAs, High-A & Double-A) 2014(469 PAs, Double-A)
OBP .393 .335 .344 .324 .337
SLG .543 .485 .485 .412 .408
BB% 7.14-percent 10.5-percent 7.36-percent 8.06-percent 9-percent
K% 22.45-percent 27.11-percent 22.36-percent 17.09-percent 19-percent

Sure, the power has declined consistently through the minors for Sanchez, but everything else hasn’t. He’s walking more (or at least, more consistently) than he did a couple years ago. He’s also striking out less, which is where the power sacrifice may have come from. A focus to make more contact is apparent, but that’s come at the expense of some power. Which isn’t to say there’s none – he’s averaged a home run every 28 plate appearances over his minor league career, and one every 34.9 plate appearances over the last two seasons. A decline, sure, but not fall-apart decline.

Fantasy Outlook

Sanchez still has just 579 plate appearances at the Double-A level, which is about one full major league season for a regular catcher. It’s likely he needs another full season in the minors, and the Yankees may be in no hurry to get him to the big club anyway. With Brian McCann still having four years left on his deal, and Francisco Cervelli being a more than competent backup with two more years of control, there will be no rush on Sanchez. Even if McCann were to start playing other positions, there’s still Mark Teixeira at first base.

Fantasy baseball owners in keeper leagues or those starting keeper leagues next year should keep an eye on him. The catching position isn’t one that is necessarily conducive to fantasy productions – as of today, no catcher is among the top-55 fantasy hitters in standard leagues, and two in the top-90. In that sense, don’t overpay at the table in 2015.

Do keep an eye on Gary Sanchez though. With his power, his home park, and the visiting parks he’ll get to, it might not be long before he’s a .260 hitter with 20 home runs. That is fantasy production at the catcher position that doesn’t come by very often.

*As always, thanks to Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, and The Baseball Cube for their resources. 

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