After a slow start to 2011, Gary Sanchez looks to be coming around. Sanchez mashed in 2010, posting a .936 OPS in Rookie Ball and a short stint in the New York-Penn League as well. After truckloads of hype on the offseason (ranked #3 in the Yankee system by many prospect analysts despite never setting foot in full season ball), and many comparisons to Jesus Montero, the 18 year-old was expected to continue on the Montero track of tearing up full season ball at age 18. However, things didn’t exactly go as planned.
In the first month of the season, Sanchez looked overmatched in his first taste of full-season ball. In April, Sanchez got off to a .209/.250/.299 start, showing little power or plate discipline. In 16 games, Sanchez fanned 25 times while walking only 4 times. He had only 4 extra base hits (3 doubles and a homer) during that period, which included a small injury, and rumors began to circulate that Sanchez would be demoted to Staten Island once their season begins.
Since the calendar turned, however, Sanchez has looked like a different player. In May, Gary has put up a .292/.386/.585, showing renewed power and patience. In 14 May contests, Sanchez has has walked 8 times, while striking out 11 times. Additionally, Sanchez has 3 homers and 5 doubles in May so far, joining in the slugging exploits of his Charleston teammates. With a strong month that is more in line with his career performance, Sanchez is looking like he belongs in full season ball, and should stay there for the rest of the season barring an aggressive promotion to Tampa (highly unlikely) or a lateral/slight demotion to Staten Island (which I wouldn’t be too opposed to, because it would give me an opportunity to see him this summer).
All is not rosy for Gary Sanchez in May, however. While the teenager’s offensive performance has improved dramatically, his defense has been a weak point. While his 26% caught stealing rate is decent (8 of 31 attempted base stealers caught), the fact that 31 runners have attempted to steal on him in only 18 games behind the plate is evidence that opponents don’t respect his arm yet. Additionally, Sanchez has 12 passed balls in those 18 games, not an encouraging sign. Obviously Sanchez is still young, and has plenty of room to improve (and unlike Jesus Montero, he is considered physically capable of being a good defender behind the plate).
Despite Sanchez’s weak defense so far, it appears that his prospect status is largely holding steady. Sanchez could shoot even further up the prospect lists if he continues to hit as he has in May (or improves), though defensive questions (and his lack of upper level experience) will remain lingering questions. Nonetheless, it is exciting to see a top prospect shake off some significant early struggles to begin raking at a new level.
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