How Gary Sanchez can avoid another ugly Yankees mess

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The ceiling remains intact. If you’ve watched Gary Sanchez perform this spring, surely you can see that.

So what can he and the Yankees do to avoid hitting the ugly floor again?

It couldn’t hurt to recall the pearl emitted from one of Sanchez’s pinstriped catching ancestors, Yogi Berra: Ninety percent of the game is half-mental.

While Sanchez carries the history of his makeup and work ethic being a concern during his minor league days, anyone around him nowadays will tell you that such criticism no longer applies. Instead, the Yankees and Sanchez must focus on ensuring that the 28-year-old does not turn his inevitable slumps into flat-out crises by panicking, pressing or whatever other term you want to apply to that sinking feeling.

“Yeah, maybe,” Sanchez said Tuesday, through an interpreter, when asked if his ghastly 2020 season resulted at all from excessive pressing. “You go into a short season and you’re not getting the results you want, you start getting anxious. You get to the point where you’re not producing the results you want, and then at some point, you start wanting to get two hits in one at-bat.”

Echoed Sanchez’s manager, Aaron Boone: “I think even at his lowest … he’s very confident in what he’s capable of doing and his ability. That said, I do think there’s been moments where there has … probably at times last year where [he was] pressing. You want to make up for some of the struggles you’ve had. That can snowball on you a little bit. I’ve certainly been there at the plate where even though you know what you’re capable of, you’re still in a funk where tension still sets in.

Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez.
AP

“But part of being a big leaguer and part of being an outstanding player is being able to navigate those, because you’re going to get hit in the mouth. You’re going to struggle. You’re going to have a few days where you’re feeling bad. The really good ones find a way to navigate out of that.”

Sanchez’s horrid .147/.253/.365 showing during last year COVID-shortened campaign, combined with terrible defense, kept him mostly on the bench last October and pushed the Yankees to contemplate at least trading him, if not non-tendering him, last winter. When they opted to give it another go, tendering him a contract that will pay him $6.35 million, they took on the responsibility of putting this Humpty Dumpty back together again and maximizing his clear talents. And if Sanchez wants to keep climbing baseball’s salary scale, then he carries his own motivation for wanting to move well past 2020.

Of course, if last season marked a nadir, Sanchez has functioned as a human roller coaster for most of his big league career, from his seesawing 2017 (featuring the infamous public scolding of his defense by Joe Girardi) to his poor 2018 to his up-and-down 2019. The end results of ‘17 and ’19 justified the journey, although all players aim for consistency and, as Sanchez conceded, he can deepen his funks by turning up the heat on himself.

Sanchez said he utilizes the services of Chad Bohling, the team’s longtime director of mental conditioning: “I’ve always had really good conversations with Chad. I’m always chatting with Chad and have a really good relationship with Chad.”

It’s hard out here for a catcher in 2021. You must master all of the data fed to you by your coaches, via your analysts, and you get measured not only by your ability to block pitches, but by your knack for framing them; the Yankees have tinkered with Sanchez’s technique, asking him last year to lower one knee. Then you throw in Sanchez’s abilities as a hitter and it can add up to quite a burden.

With just over two weeks to Opening Day, Sanchez owns a .286/.348/.714 slash line in 10 Grapefruit League games, going deep three times, and his catching has set off no flares.

Can he reach his ceiling? Can he avoid his floor? Sanchez has our attention again. It’s on him and the Yankees to retain it for the right reasons, They could do far worse than keeping Yogi’s wisdom in mind at all times.

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