Will Gary Sanchez Break Out in 2021?

It's not exaggeratory to say that Gary Sanchez severely disappointed in some of his last few seasons with the New York Yankees. After coming out as one of the bright young stars of the game with a stellar 2016 rookie season and following it up with a fantastic 2017 that saw his name in the AL MVP voting, disappointing 2018 and 2020 seasons have seen him struggle to attain the status he once held.

However, hope may be on the horizon. In 10 games in Spring Training in 2021, The Kraken, as he is endearingly called, has slashed .286/.348/.714 with 3 home runs and 4 RBI so far. Granted, it is just Spring Training, but compared to a 2020 Spring Training where in 9 games he slashed .086/.154/.217 with just 1 home run and 3 RBI, things are looking up for the 28-year-old catcher.

In 2016, Sanchez burst onto the scene midway through the season, where in only 53 games, he hit .299 with 20 home runs, becoming the quickest player to 19 home runs (45 games) in the modern era. He was consistently making highlight reels not only for his hitting prowess, but for his stand-out arm, as he averaged the best pop time (1.90 seconds) of any catcher in the MLB. Despite the small sample size, Sanchez still finished second in AL Rookie of the Year voting.

In the Yankees' magical 2017 season, Sanchez was a catalyst for the Yankee offense, setting the franchise's record for most home runs by a catcher with 33, and slashing .278/.345/.531 with 90 RBI. Sanchez earned himself his first career All-Star appearance, including a two-round run in that year's Home Run Derby. He won the Silver Slugger for the catcher position and finished 22nd in AL MVP voting, as he was a key piece in a lineup that brought the Yankees to a hard-fought Game 7 against the eventual World Series champion Houston Astros* in the ALCS.

2018 was where Sanchez began his decline. In a season marred by injuries, he only managed to play in 89 games and hit .186/.291/.406 with 18 home runs and 53 RBI. That season, despite setting the MLB record for home runs in a single season, the Yankees saw an early exit to the eventual champion Boston Red Sox in the ALDS. Throughout the season, Sanchez was heavily criticized for lack of effort, one instance of which lost the Yankees a game. In the offseason he underwent shoulder surgery.

The Kraken showed signs of life again in the 2019 season, but nothing near the levels of his 2016 and 2017 campaigns. Even though he earned another All Star appearance, his consistency faltered. He smashed 34 home runs, a career-high, with 77 RBI, but only mustered a .232/.316/.512 slash line. His team made the ALCS that year, but once again lost to the Houston Astros, this time in just 6 games.

In 2020, the world crashed down due to COVID-19, and Sanchez's performance during the shortened 60-game season was a microcosm of how the rest of the world was doing. In 47 games, Sanchez hit an abysmal .147 with 10 home runs and 24 RBI, losing his starting catching job to career minor-leaguer Kyle Higashioka, even having to sometimes sit during the team's short-lived playoff run.

Along with recent offensive slumps, his defensive woes have lingered throughout his entire career. Sanchez led the league in passed balls in 2017 and 2018, and after bringing that number down, led the league in catcher errors in 2019 and 2020.

There is a direct correlation between Sanchez's individual season performance and the Yankees' season performance. The team relies on Sanchez to provide an offensive kick, and when half of a team's battery is not producing, it's hard for any team to succeed. If The Kraken's performance so far in a slim Spring Training sample is anything to go off of though, then the Yankees should be in for a good season.

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