TAMPA, Fla. – When the Yankees informed Gary Sánchez that he would sit in favor of Kyle Higashioka late last year, the catcher replied that the only way for him to escape his season-long slump would be to keep swinging.
So once the postseason ended, that is exactly what Sánchez did -- in Tampa, Fla., with hitting coaches Marcus Thames and P.J. Pilittere, as well as in the Dominican Winter League. As a result, Sánchez has made a few mechanical tweaks that he believes will restore his swing to its full potential.
“It’s a little early right now to really give you a true answer, but I definitely feel good with the adjustments I’ve made,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “I think they’re going to be key. They’re going to make a difference. I feel great and I definitely think this year is going to be different.”
Sánchez said that the coaches stressed keeping his weight back, placing more pressure on his right leg to let the pitch travel further, then striking the ball with a compact swing. The batting-practice homers littering a grassy area beyond the left-field wall of a practice field suggest that Sánchez is applying those suggestions well.
“I think he looks really good,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I feel like he’s got a really good routine going right now that he's frankly helping to drive. He’s made some adjustments offensively, shortening up his swing. So I would say here in the early days, he's doing quite well.”
Sánchez shrugged off recent comments by Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, who opined in a January interview on WFAN that Sánchez “doesn’t enjoy baseball right now.”
“Everybody has an opinion, and I understand that,” Sánchez said. “But I can tell you that for me coming to the ballpark, my relationship with my teammates doesn’t change if I’m struggling. My relationship with them is the same as if I’m having a great week.”
Sánchez is also working with catching coach Tanner Swanson, receiving pitches with one knee down to improve Sánchez’s framing. Swanson traveled to Tampa ahead of camp to ensure that Sánchez’s program would be airtight when exhibition games begin.
“I feel really good about it,” Sánchez said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve done a lot of work with the right knee down as well as the left knee down. I think we’re working on a lot of things that are going to allow me to be better.”
The Yankees traded left-hander Justin Wilson to the Tigers during the 2015 Winter Meetings in exchange for two prospects: right-handers Chad Green and Luis Cessa. Now all three are projected to be members of the Bombers’ bullpen, with Wilson having agreed to terms on a one-year contract on Feb. 15.
“It’s definitely going to be a little full-circle moment when I actually do meet him, because that’s who we were traded for,” Green said. “I’m excited to get to know him. I hear great things about him from guys because we have a lot of guys in our clubhouse who have played with him.”
Wilson’s deal is not yet official, with physical exams and intake testing still being completed.
Austin Wells, the Yankees’ first-round selection in last year’s MLB Draft, has been putting on impressive batting practice displays during early workouts. Selected 28th overall from the University of Arizona, the lefty-swinging backstop owns a clean swing that allows him to use the entire field.
“One of the things that stands out to me is how strong he is,” Boone said. “He's as strong as anyone in camp. Some of the conversations that he's having are pretty advanced as far as from a hitting standpoint. This is a guy that loves hitting.”
Wells is rated as the Yankees’ No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline.
Higashioka said that he was impressed by a recent bullpen session with Jameson Taillon, his first time being partnered with the right-hander.
“The fastball is jumping out of his hand and the breaking balls look good,” Higashioka said. “Overall, I’m pretty excited to see what he can do this year. I don’t know what he looked like in the past, but what he looks like now, it looks really good.”
The Yankees were pleased that Robinson Chirinos was still available as a free agent this month, picking up the 36-year-old catcher on a Minor League deal.
Chirinos hit .162 last season with the Rangers and Mets, but he teamed well with Gerrit Cole as members of the 2019 Astros. Boone said that he believes Chirinos’ presence will be helpful for many, including Sánchez.
“He’s a pro. He’s a lot of fun to be around,” Boone said. “He brings a lot to the table. He’s still in excellent shape and we feel like he can really play. For him to last this long and to be with us at this point, I’m excited about that.”
He said it
“I do feel like this is, hands down, the deepest group of arms we’ve had since I’ve been here.” – Boone
The Yankees’ pitchers and catchers will continue working out Sunday at the club’s player development complex. Workouts are not open to the public.