Earlier today, I spoke with John Manuel of Baseball America. Manuel's the man behind ranking the Yankees' top 10 prospects, which were released (in e-magazine form) late last month. During an hourlong interview, I asked him about a number of different topics relating to this year's rankings. Because the chat was so lengthy, I'm going to make a post out of each question. It's more easily digestible that way.
Question 1: It seems that Jesus Montero's future as a catcher in name only is pretty widely cemented throughout the industry. That doesn't seem to be the case for Gary Sanchez, however, the system's other offensive firebrand at backstop. In your experience so far, what have evaluators said about Sanchez's defense?
John Manuel: It's pretty universal that people think that he has better physical ability to catch than Jesus Montero. Sanchez, he's not as big, that's where it all starts. I think Jesus Montero, I'm sure he was a little bit better this year at times than he was in previous years. I hear there are things that he does better defensively than he used to, but he's just so big. The Yankees can, and have, talked about his increased flexibility and all those things, but he is who he is. He's 6-4 and he's at least 225 pounds, and Sanchez just isn't that big.
Sanchez, I think, has a good catcher's frame and has a chance to be similarly offensive and I think a little bit more of a classic offensive player than Montero, who's a bit of a front-foot hitter, not a classic pure swing, but it does sound like Sanchez's receiving is rudimentary.
The story I had was at times he would not call a breaking ball with pitchers. He would not call for a breaking ball, because he did not have the confidence that he could catch the breaking ball. One that I cited was Mark Montgomery, their 11th-round pick this year. His first outing in Charleston this year, he had five strikeouts in an inning. We've all heard of four, but I think five is really unusual. Sanchez just couldn't catch the breaking ball.
The way the Yankees put it, and what I tried to convey this year, I finally got a Yankees official to admit that catching and throwing are lower priorities for them than they are for other organizations. They look for offensive catchers. It's true in the draft, it's true internationally. They are less interested in the Francisco Cervellis than they are in the Gary Sanchezes and the Jesus Monteros.
I won't be surprised if they give Jesus Montero an extended opportunity to catch at the major league level. The baseline is Jorge Posada. Everybody has seen Posada over the years clank balls. He's not a good receiver, he's a below-average receiver. I'm not a scout, but I've talked to scouts about Posada, and at the very least, he's a below-average receiver. That's the baseline -- if you can receive as well as Jorge Posada, and if you can hit in that neighborhood, you're going to get a chance to catch for the New York Yankees.
That's what the Yankees are looking for, so if you're looking at Gary Sanchez and you're seeing his receiving foibles right now, do it in the South Atlantic League. Figure it out in the low minors. That's what the low minors are about.
I still ranked him fourth this year. Last year we were very aggressive with him. This year I just think Banuelos and Betances deserved to be ranked ahead of him, because their ceilings are also considerable, but they both require some polish as well.
Sanchez's ceiling remains extremely high, and the Yankees believe between (catching instructor) Julio Mosquera and putting a guy like Torre Tyson in charge of defense in the organization, I think it does tell you that the organization does value instruction for defense, and they're still honing what Torre and the whole organization wants to do as far as instruction on the defensive side. They're going to put in a lot of time and make every effort to make Gary Sanchez an acceptable defender.