We are now in the last few days of 2016 and it is likely that the Yankees will not acquire any new players before the first day of the new year. There is a rumor that David Robertson and Jose Quintana could be traded to the Yankees from the White Sox, but that possible trade would take a lot of top prospects from the Yankees and is probably not close to happening.
Looking back on the last year of Yankees baseball, when the team missed the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons, the number one highlight was the emergence and historic performance from Gary Sanchez.
The last time the Yankees had a position player prospect come on to the scene from their minor league system and make an impact anywhere close to the one Sanchez did was Greg Bird in 2015. However, the only reason he was called up was because Mark Teixeira was injured for the last two months of the season.
After making his debut on August 13, Bird was very productive as he had 11 homers, 31 RBI, a .261 average and a .526 slugging percentage while playing very good defense at first. Bird had to miss the 2016 season because of surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, but his performance in 2015 has led to him going into spring training as the regular first baseman.
Bird should be able to be a productive first baseman in his first full season but his future is somewhat of an unknown since he is coming off of surgery and has only played two months. The last rookie Yankees position player who progressed from the Yankees minor league system to play a close to a full season and make a real impact before Bird and Sanchez was Brett Gardner back in 2009.
In 2009, Gardner played in 108 games, drove in 23 runs, stole 23 bases and had a solid .270 average. He made his debut in 2008 but only played in 48 games. He has been a productive outfielder for the Yankees since then and was named an All-Star in 2015 and his career high in steals is 49.
Before Gardner, Robinson Cano came up through the minor league system after being signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent as a 17-year-old and made his debut when he was 22 in 2005. When he was a rookie, Cano finished second in Rookie of the Year voting with 14 homers, 34 doubles, 62 RBI and a .297 average. Cano was an All-Star and received a Silver Slugger award in his second campaign after finishing with an outstanding .342 average with 15 homers, 78 RBI and a .525 slugging percentage.
Francisco Cervelli, who signed as an amateur free agent in 2003 out of Venezuela and made his debut as a 22-year-old in 2008, was solid and essentially split time with Jorge Posada in 2010 and had some decent years as a backup. Besides those three, the Yankees haven’t had significant production from a position player that they have developed in the last 10 years. This is what makes Sanchez’s production all the more important and significant.
Sanchez made his debut in September of 2015 when he was 0-2 in two at-bats in two games but would exceed his rookie limit in the 2016 season after playing regularly after being called up on August 3. He lost a competition with Austin Romine to be the backup in spring training but it was for the best because he was able to work on his defensive weaknesses with the Triple-A Scranton RailRiders.
Sanchez was called up for one game in May when he went 0-4 but during that game on August 3 he got his first MLB hit off of Hansel Robles in a game against the Mets. He ended the 2016 season with an very impressive stat line of a .299 average with 60 hits, 12 doubles, 34 runs scored, 20 homers, 42 RBI and a .657 slugging percentage.
He finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year voting to Michael Fulmer and surely would have finished first if he would have been called up a month and a half to two months sooner. However, very few players in baseball history have put up the kind of stats that he had in only two months of the season, which makes him finishing second in the voting very impressive and noteworthy and makes him the story of the year for the Yankees.
After becoming the everyday catcher on the 3rd he went on a four-game hitting streak, which included three doubles, and in the seven games after being called up he went 10 for 29 (.345) with one homer, four RBI and seven runs scored.
On August 10, in the middle of one of his hot streaks, he went 4-5 with his first MLB home run. On August 16 against the Blue Jays, Sanchez had his first of three two homer games. On August 22, Sanchez was named AL Player of the Week after hitting four home runs with a .523 average (12-21). After playing his 23rd career game on August 27, he became the first player in MLB history with at least 11 homers and 31 hits in that many games.
Another milestone that he set was on August 29 was winning his second consecutive Player of the Week, and on September 3 MLB named the Yankees prized catcher the Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month. He is the only Yankees catcher to ever named Rookie of the Month or Player of the Month.
“It feels great to win the award, but the reality is that the focus is to keep winning games right now,” Sanchez said through a translator. He had a team first attitude through all of his success, which is a positive.
He has always been known for his hitting ability but he has been able to improve his skills behind the plate and his success at throwing out runners at second. He had a 41 percent caught stealing percentage, which is a very solid number and was much better than what Brian McCann had.
He was always a highly rated prospect but he admittedly had some struggles earlier in his minor league career because of attitude issues, which he has overcome. He credits the birth of his daughter for his transformation from a player “going through the motions” to one who is now praised for his work ethic.
On September 21, in a game against the Rays when he was 3-4 with 5 RBI, he slugged his 18th and 19th homers in his 45th career game, which made him the fastest player to reach that mark in the modern era. His ability to improve his mindset, work ethic and overall skill set and to not go through the motions anymore has caused him to improve all around and the give the Yankees a potential All-Star at the catcher position.