Signed for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 at the age of 16, Sanchez rapidly established himself as one of the top catcher prospects early in his career in the low minors, before the hype train stalled out as he languished in the upper minors in recent years. As Ben Carsley expertly noted in his “Get To Know: Catching Prospects” piece, Sanchez is “the posterboy for prospect fatigue.” It’s easy to forget just how young he is given how many years he’s been on the fantasy radar in keeper and dynasty formats.
What Went Right in 2015?
Ranked 65th overall on Bret Sayre’s pre-season Top 101 Dynasty League Prospect list last year, Sanchez closed it out a stellar campaign with a cup of coffee in New York, making his major-league debut on October 3rd.
The 23-year-old spent the majority of the year padding his resume as the minor leagues’ premier offensive catcher, especially from a power standpoint. After blasting 12 home runs in just 254 plate appearances at Double-A, he was promoted to Triple-A on July 18th and proceeded to hit .295/.349/.500 with six home runs over his final 146 plate appearances. He also kicked in seven stolen bases in nine attempts.
Once the regular season ended, Sanchez picked up right where he left off against some of the top competition in the minor leagues in the Arizona Fall League. In addition to crushing a league-high seven home runs, he hit a rock-solid .295/.357/.625 in 98 plate appearances and took home MVP honors in the Fall Stars game.
What Went Wrong in 2015?
It’s hard to envision Sanchez compiling a better full season, spanning two minor-league levels and the Arizona Fall League, than he did in 2015. However, his defense remains his biggest bugaboo and the single largest potential roadblock to his long-term fantasy value. He’s not a candidate for the “full Montero experience” (transforming into a designated hitter-only slugger) but he’s unlikely to ever be an above average defender behind the plate, which could lead to an eventual position switch, where his power becomes less of an asset for fantasy owners.
By all accounts, Sanchez made tremendous strides defensively behind the plate in 2015. After leading Double-A Eastern League catchers with 17 errors and 10 passed balls in 2014, Sanchez committed just 10 errors and allowed only two passed balls in 83 games in the upper minors this past year.
What To Expect in 2016
The Yankees traded backup catcher John Ryan Murphy to Minnesota in exchange for outfielder Aaron Hicks this offseason, giving Sanchez the inside track to win the backup job out of spring training this in 2016. If he can occasionally spell starter Brian McCann and provide an insurance policy (along with fellow prospect Greg Bird) behind oft-injured, aging sluggers, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, he should carve out enough playing time to make an impact in deeper two-catcher mixed leagues and AL-only formats. McCann, who is under contract through 2018 (with a team option for 2019), is firmly entrenched as New York’s starter. However, all it would take is one injury for Sanchez to receive everyday at-bats and shallow mixed-league relevance.
The Great Beyond
The question of paramount importance to fantasy owners—whether he’s a viable long-term option defensively at the big-league level capable of eventually succeeding Brian McCann—persists, but after the strides Sanchez made in 2015, it’s hard not to be optimistic.
Regardless of which position he ultimately calls home, Sanchez possesses tantalizing offensive potential, capable of belting 20+ home runs with a decent average annually. As J.P. Breen pointed out in his “State of the Position” piece earlier this week, offensive production from the catcher position has declined in three consecutive seasons. The lack of quality fantasy options is especially apparent in the AL, where only six junior circuit catchers (Evan Gattis Russell Martin, Brian McCann, Stephen Vogt, Salvador Perez, and Blake Swihart) recorded double-digit earnings in mono-leagues last year, making Sanchez an even more appetizing long-term target.
Over the last decade, only nine catchers have hit 25 or more home runs in a single season. Mike Napoli is the only one to reach the lofty 30-home-run plateau. Given his tremendous raw power, Sanchez is poised to join that exclusive group in the near future if everything comes together at the plate. The time to invest is right now, especially in keeper or dynasty formats.