CLEARWATER, Fla. — Gary Sanchez is getting his chance.
The 23-year-old, in competition with Austin Romine and Carlos Corporan for the backup catching job, started yesterday’s game against the Phillies with Masahiro Tanaka on the mound.
“I think it’s shown how much he’s grown in the last couple years, that he’s getting starts now,” Joe Girardi said.
It was Sanchez’s second start of spring training and first with an expected front-line pitcher such as Tanaka.
“It’s exciting to be in the mix,” Sanchez said through his translator. “For us, all players, we want to make it to the big leagues, but that’s not my decision.”
Sanchez has had an up-and-down career since the Yankees signed him at the age of 16 out of the Dominican Republic for $3 million.
Sanchez was suspended twice, once in 2011 while with Class A Charleston for insubordination and again in 2014 with Trenton for an undisclosed reason. Trenton manager Tony Franklin said at the time that it was a “disciplinary action.”
But something turned for Sanchez last season, first with Double-A Trenton and then with Triple-A Scranton/ Wilkes-Barre.
“I thought last year, I saw signs of him maturing,” one opposing team talent evaluator said. “Sometimes guys look in the mirror and say, ‘The meter’s running.’ That seemed to happen with him.”
Sanchez’s arm and bat rarely have been questioned, but his ability to receive has been. Opposing team talent evaluators have noticed significant development in that area during the last year, as have the Yankees.
“The physical things he could always do, but there’s little subtleties to receiving and handling a game [he’s improved at],” Girardi said.
Sanchez went 0-for-2 yesterday and was hit by a pitch in the left leg, which was wrapped in ice afterward. “Everything’s fine,” he said.
Romine had two doubles and is 4-for-8 in three games. If he’s left off the 25-man roster at the end of camp, he’ll be a free agent. The Yankees don’t want to lose Romine, a good defensive catcher, but Sanchez’s bat, particularly against lefthanders, could be too tempting.
“My focus is to work very hard every day. The decision is up to them,” Sanchez said. “As a backup catcher in the big leagues, I would have the opportunity to learn from [Brian] McCann and learn how he calls games. That’s a nice opportunity.”