NEW YORK — Gary Sanchez has been a highly-touted prospect in the New York Yankees organization since 2009, when they gave him a $3 million signing bonus when he was only 16 years old.
And throughout his minor league career, he has shown flashes of the promise the Yankees believed they saw in him, hitting .353 in the Rookie League as a 17-year-old and 13 homers in each of his first seasons in high-A and Double-A.
But Sanchez has never, at any level of professional baseball, hit the way he is hitting in his first real taste of major league pitching, which means that at some point, he will surely cool off. The question is not if, but when. And judging by his performance in Friday night’s 14-4 Yankees’ victory over the Baltimore Orioles, the answer isn’t anytime soon.
Sanchez had another huge night Friday, going 3-for-5 with four RBIs and yet another home run, his fourth in the last four games and his 10th since being recalled Aug. 3 — a span of 19 games. Over those 19 games, he has done what no Yankee and no major leaguer has ever done before, namely collect 10 home runs and 30 hits — actually, 31– in his first 22 games. The 10 home runs are the most a Yankees rookie has ever hit in a month, and August still has five days left. Projected over a full season, Sanchez’s 10 home runs, 20 RBIs and 31 hits in 77 at-bats translate to 78 homers, 156 RBIs and 241 hits. His batting average sits at a cool .403.
Naturally, this cannot possibly last. But man is it fun to watch for as long as it does.
“I don’t think you’d expect anyone to do what he’s done, even if you’re a major league player that’s had a lot of success,” Joe Girardi had said before the game. “The numbers that he’s put up are just off the charts.”
Afterward, he was only slightly less effervescent. “It’s as good as I’ve seen to start a career,” said the man who was here when Derek Jeter was a rookie.
Sanchez, a man of far fewer words than hits, said he could recall similar hot streaks earlier this season with the Triple-A Scranton RailRiders and last year in the Arizona Fall League. But since he finished up hitting .295 with seven home runs in 88 at-bats and was batting .282 with 10 homers in 313 at-bats for Scranton, those streaks were either shorter or not nearly as hot as this one.
The guy is on fire.
“He’s amazing right now,” said Luis Cessa, who was a teammate at Scranton and started Friday night’s game, allowing three runs over six innings to earn his fourth win as a Yankee without a defeat. “This is an amazing moment for him.”
But how long will that moment last?
It would be all too easy to invoke the names of other Yankee rookies whose careers began like skyrockets only to fizzle to earth. Kevin Maas, Shane Spencer, Shelley Duncan, anyone? The other two big league rookies to hit as many as 10 home runs in their first 22 games — Colorado’s Trevor Story this year and Boston’s George Scott back in 1966 — provide a little more in the way of evidence as to where this start might lead Sanchez, but it is hardly conclusive. Scott, of course, was a solid big league player for 14 seasons, a .268 hitter who averaged 20 home runs a year. Story is among the favorites for NL Rookie of the Year.
Sanchez has plenty of time left this season to make the 130 at-bat minimum to qualify for the AL Rookie of the Year award, which in all likelihood is ticketed for Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer.
And how much longer he will hit the way he has been hitting is open to conjecture, although we know it generally doesn’t take all that long for big league teams to locate and exploit the holes in a young hitter’s swing. Already, they are figuring out Aaron Judge.
But in his roughly three weeks in the big leagues, if nothing else, Sanchez has injected life into a Yankees clubhouse that had grown stale with familiarity and lethargic with age.
If it is not fair to blame all the Yankees’ early-season woes on the likes of Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran and of course, Alex Rodriguez, neither is it realistic to fail to notice the difference now that two of them are gone and the third, Teixeira, has had his playing time reduced in his final weeks as a major league player.
Sanchez’s at-bats have replaced A-Rod’s as must-see events for Yankees fans and even for some of his teammates.
“He’s just a lot of fun to watch,” Brett Gardner said. “He’s obviously a special player on both sides of the ball. Everybody talks about what he does offensively, but I’ve heard nothing but great things about the things he’s doing behind the plate, the way he calls a game, and the pitchers love throwing to him. He’s really locked in right now, and hopefully it can continue.”
Not coincidentally, the arrival of Sanchez — and Cessa and Tyler Austin and Chad Green and Judge, who is struggling somewhat at .231 but had a double in the seventh inning — dovetails with the Yankees winning 12 of their last 20 games. They have climbed to a season-high five games over .500 and moved to within 3 1/2 games of the second AL wild-card spot, although they still trail five teams.
“We feel pretty good,” Gardner said. “We’re obviously not in the exact position we would like to be in, but we still got a chance at this thing.”
“I think that these young kids have done a really good job; they’ve contributed in a big way,” Girardi said. “Guys are excited around here, and we believe.”
When’s the last time you heard that out of the Yankees clubhouse?