TAMPA, Fla. -- Digging in next to home plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the first time this spring, Gary Sánchez completed his batting-practice round with a flourish, belting balls over the wall with four of his final five swings.As Sanchez unloaded, manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian
TAMPA, Fla. -- Digging in next to home plate at George M. Steinbrenner Field for the first time this spring, Gary Sánchez completed his batting-practice round with a flourish, belting balls over the wall with four of his final five swings.
As Sanchez unloaded, manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman stood a few feet away, exchanging knowing nods. That raw power has kept the Yankees placing bets on Sanchez's potential, and the catcher said he has already turned the page on a disappointing 2018 season.
"It feels great to have the support of the entire organization," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "It's a touch of encouragement to see that from our team, and we're one unit. I say this a lot: We're one."
The Yankees will continue to watch Sanchez closely this spring, with the 26-year-old being brought along slowly while he recovers from arthroscopic surgery to remove debris from the AC joint of his left shoulder.
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Though Sanchez said he feels close to 100 percent, he is not expected to play in Spring Training games until the first week of March.
"We'll probably hold him out of that first week of games, but there's really nothing behind the scenes that he's not doing," Boone said. "He's full steam ahead. I think we're just being real cautious and slow-playing that first week. He's ready to go."
The shoulder had been an issue since 2017, when Sanchez had a cortisone injection to help get through the schedule. Two more were administered last year, a season in which he batted .186/.291/.406 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs in 89 games.
After experiencing stiffness while working out with strength-and-conditioning coach Matthew Krause in early November, Sanchez opted to have the procedure, which carries an estimated three-month recovery. Sanchez said he does not blame the shoulder for his underwhelming performance.
"Injuries are part of the game," Sanchez said. "It was definitely a tough season with a lot of adversity, for sure, but I can't use that as an excuse. You've got to put that year behind and focus on this year and this new opportunity we have, and be ready to play."
In addition to his offense, the Yankees want Sanchez to improve behind the plate, having led the Majors with 18 passed balls despite playing only 76 games at catcher. The 45 wild pitches on Sanchez's watch were the fifth most in baseball.
Cashman and members of the pitching staff have lauded other areas of Sanchez's skill set, like his game-calling and ability to shut down opponents on the bases, but Sanchez is expected to work intensely with catching coach Jason Brown this spring to avoid chasing balls to the backstop as frequently.
"We're certainly continuing to really dive into his receiving, his blocking," Boone said. "From our behind-the-scenes testing, he's at some really good levels in terms of physical conditioning and things he's able to do. I think those things will lend itself to him continuing to improve behind the plate."
Boone, who visited the Dominican Republic over the offseason to share a meal with Sanchez and his wife, Sahaira, said he senses the backstop has gained maturity as a result of his difficult campaign. Sanchez said he attributes that to an increasingly solid relationship with the manager.
"We talk a lot," Sanchez said. "We talk a lot about baseball. We talk a lot about other things that don't involve baseball. I think he had a better opportunity to know me as a person besides the ballplayer. I'm just focusing on the positive things and the future. There's no reason to keep dwelling on the past and on the bad year. To be honest with you, I've forgot about last year already."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook.