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Best hitter in Yanks' lineup? Kraken has a case

Sanchez, who had 5 RBIs Thursday, 'may be the most gifted'
MLB.com @BryanHoch

TAMPA, Fla. -- Camera shutter clicks have accompanied every on-field batting practice session for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton this spring, creating moments during which Gary Sanchez has been permitted to go about his business quietly, a luxury that the Yankees catcher will never complain about.

Judge and Stanton's "Must-See BP" may be worth the price of admission, but as Sanchez continued to pelt Grapefruit League pitching with a homer and five RBIs in Thursday's 9-5 win over the Pirates, a case can be made that the slugging backstop wields the most lethal bat in the lineup.

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TAMPA, Fla. -- Camera shutter clicks have accompanied every on-field batting practice session for Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton this spring, creating moments during which Gary Sanchez has been permitted to go about his business quietly, a luxury that the Yankees catcher will never complain about.

Judge and Stanton's "Must-See BP" may be worth the price of admission, but as Sanchez continued to pelt Grapefruit League pitching with a homer and five RBIs in Thursday's 9-5 win over the Pirates, a case can be made that the slugging backstop wields the most lethal bat in the lineup.

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"I really think he may be the most gifted hitter on the team," Brett Gardner said. "Not to take anything away from what those guys do, everyone has a different approach, but he's up there at the top for me. He's very dangerous, and he has a special ability for putting the barrel on the baseball. He's a complete hitter."

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Sanchez raised his spring average to .370 with a 2-for-4 performance on Thursday, mashing a three-run homer to right field off Brett McKinney in the third inning and roping a two-run double to right-center field in the fourth off Sean Keselica.

With two weeks to go before Opening Day against the Blue Jays in Toronto, Sanchez looked like a player who is ready to pack his passport.

Video: PIT@NYY: Sanchez rips two-run 2B to reach five RBIs

"I feel good, but I still think there's more work to be done," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "I want to stay away from swinging at bad pitches and make sure that I command the strike zone better when I'm hitting."

Despite a third-inning passed ball, mentions of Sanchez's name continue to prompt broad grins from manager Aaron Boone, who has been pleased by the response to challenges from the coaching staff.

"I don't mean to be hyperbolic about it, but I think he's catching great," Boone said. "He had the passed ball today, but otherwise his work in the dirt, his pitch framing, his commitment to his pitchers and game-planning, all that -- I just think he's in a good place heading into the season."

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Sanchez reported to camp intending to prioritize his blocking, viewed by scouts as the one area of his game that was deficient. Sanchez's 16 passed balls tied Yasmani Grandal for the big league lead, and the 53 wild pitches on his watch were second only to Jonathan Lucroy (58).

"I definitely feel that I've improved," Sanchez said. "I keep saying, 'You can always get better,' but one thing that I definitely feel is better now is blocking balls. I'm definitely better than last year. I feel better than last year blocking balls. But there's more improvement to be done."

Gardner, who already views Sanchez as one of the top players in the American League, wonders what a better version of the 25-year-old would look like.

Video: NYY@ATL: Sanchez smacks a laser solo homer to left

"I don't want to say there's still a lot of room for improvement, because how much better can somebody be?" Gardner said. "But I remember when I was that age, there was still a lot I was learning about the game and a lot of things I still had to improve on.

"For me, he can be the best catcher in the game for quite some time if he continues to progress and work on both sides of the ball. He's a very, very talented hitter and can hit the ball out, foul pole to foul pole, any stadium. We forget, he's still a young kid."

After being hired, Boone said he would prioritize his relationship with Sanchez, setting a date to meet in Manhattan and discuss the season ahead. Thus far, Sanchez said that the communication with his skipper has been positive.

"Something I can tell you is he's a nice guy," Sanchez said. "You might all know that, but he's a really nice guy."

Indeed, Boone's affable personality helped convince management that he was the right fit to connect with the rest of the "Baby Bombers." Being able to pencil Sanchez's name in for the March 29 lineup -- and about 11 dozen more after that -- will keep the rookie skipper smiling.

"Gary's bat always looks like it's ready for Opening Day," Boone said. "That man can hit."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.

New York Yankees, Gary Sanchez