TAMPA -- Gary Sanchez, a 20-year-old catcher recognized as one of the Yankees' top prospects, is best known for his promising bat, leading the Tampa Yankees in home runs (four) and RBIs (18) going into last night's game against Clearwater.
But ask Tampa hitting coach Marcus Thames, the former Yankee, about Sanchez's best assets, and he raves about the powerful arm he saw for the first time just this spring.
"He has a cannon," Thames said after a rainy morning win Wednesday at Steinbrenner Field. "He has a really good arm. We were in spring training, and I had heard [about his arm]. I think we were playing Bradenton, and he came up to throw, and I'm like 'Wow.' Then somebody else tried to steal, and I said 'What are you thinking? Why are you trying to go on this kid?' When he has all his stuff together, he's pretty good."
That's what the Yankees hoped when they gave him a $3-million signing bonus in 2009 as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He hit .329 as a rookie at two levels in 2010, doubled his power numbers from eight home runs to 17 in 2011, then split last season between Charleston and Tampa, finishing with a combined 85 RBIs.
Starting this season where he finished 2012, Sanchez is hopeful of a midseason promotion. J.R. Murphy, himself just 21, is hitting .297 at Double-A Trenton, but the Yankees' Triple-A catcher with Scranton / Wilkes-Barre, 30-year-old Bobby Wilson, is hitting only .150 with two home runs.
Sanchez, to Thames' pleasure, is focused on how he is playing and not where he is playing. The youngest player on the Tampa roster has impressed his coaches with the maturity he's developing along with the rest of his game.
"I have to continue working. That's the key," the 6-2, 220-pound catcher said, speaking through an interpreter. "I want to improve in everything, in hitting and defensively. I always had a good arm, was born with it. Everybody wants to get promoted, but it's something I don't pay attention to. It's out of my control."
Thames said the key to Sanchez's continued rise through the Yankees' system is consistency -- in the last 10 games, he's hitting .128 -- but what encourages him the most is a work ethic that can be hard to find in talented players who earn millions as teenagers.
"I'm really proud of how hard he's been working," Thames said. "The sky's the limit for him. He's got to be more consistent with every facet of the game, catching, baserunning, hitting. The mental stuff is going to get him there. He comes in every day ready to work, and I'm rooting for him."