Gary Sanchez
Jonathan Dyer/USA Today Sports

Aaron Boone may have spoken too soon announcing over the weekend that Gary Sanchez will be the Yankees’ starting catcher on Opening Day with Gerrit Cole on the mound. Normally the starting catcher is not news but in this case, it is, after Sanchez’s struggles in 2020 and Gerrit Cole having had Kyle Higashioka as his personal catcher to end the season last year.

The Yankees made the switch to the Cole-Higashioka battery in September. The Yankees’ ace went 5-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a .165 batting average against in seven starts with Higashioka behind the plate. In his first eight starts of 2020, with Sanchez behind the plate, Cole went 4-2 with a 3.91 ERA and a .224 opponents batting average.

Gary Sanchez started off Spring Training scorching hot, hitting three homers in his first half-dozen games, but has slowed down significantly since. He has a .176 average with 14 strikeouts in 34 at-bats. He’s 1-for-21 with 10 strikeouts in his last seven games, 0-for-14 with seven Ks in his last five. Sure, this is a small sample size, but Sanchez’s 41.2% strikeout rate this spring is slightly worse than last season’s 41% when he batted .147.

Sanchez was asked about his swing before Monday’s game, and he seems oblivious that it’s still a problem.

“I’ve felt really good,” he said. “Balance and timing, the last couple games I felt like there’s been a couple of adjustments that I wanted to make. I think the adjustments that I’m making now will definitely pay dividends in the future.”

Though his replacement, Higashioka, may not have the kind of strikeout-laden slumps, Higashioka certainly lacks Gary’s sky-high ceiling as someone who’s already made two All-Star games and cleared 11.3 fWAR across 421 career games. At his most elite, Sanchez was arguably one of the best catchers in the majors, one of the game’s best power hitters, and a force for any opposing pitcher to reckon with. In 2020, he was arguably the worst hitter in baseball, rendering him virtually unplayable for any contender, considering his less than stellar framing and blocking skills behind the dish.

In terms of internal solutions beyond Higashioka, the Yankees just drafted University of Arizona catcher Austin Wells in last year’s first round, but he’s a much better hitter than receiver, and is a few years away from a possible first taste of big-league action. Robinson Chirinos was set to challenge Higashioka for the backup job behind Sánchez in spring training, but fractured his wrist on a hit-by-pitch and will spend the next four-to-six weeks on the shelf. It’s possible he’ll scratch and claw his way onto the roster following his recovery, but the veteran looked awful in 2020 after parts of six solid offensive major league seasons.

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