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Double trouble: Sanchez a force with bat, arm

MLB.com

Gary Sanchez's power looms behind a placid expression, behind the gently ticking bat that comes to rest on his right shoulder as he sets, behind the navy and gray mask, relaxed squat and right arm draped across his shinguarded knee. Only in the last instant of the ball's arrival or the runner's churning acceleration into the basepath does he unleash it, the potential energy turned kinetic.

Then any disguise is stripped: The Yankees' All-Star backstop has the raw strength of bat and arm to be the most devastating two-way catcher in the Major Leagues.

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Gary Sanchez's power looms behind a placid expression, behind the gently ticking bat that comes to rest on his right shoulder as he sets, behind the navy and gray mask, relaxed squat and right arm draped across his shinguarded knee. Only in the last instant of the ball's arrival or the runner's churning acceleration into the basepath does he unleash it, the potential energy turned kinetic.

Then any disguise is stripped: The Yankees' All-Star backstop has the raw strength of bat and arm to be the most devastating two-way catcher in the Major Leagues.

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Statcast™ can measure that two-way power. Sanchez hits and throws the ball as hard as any catcher. Since his callup last August, 47 percent of his batted balls have been hard-hit -- above Statcast™'s baseline exit velocity of 95 mph -- which ranks him in the top 10 among 307 hitters with 250-plus batted balls since 2016, and the highest at his position. When runners have tried to steal, Sanchez's average velocity to second base is 85.9 mph, hardest in MLB. It's a game-breaking combination that few, if any, catchers can match.

Sanchez has lived up to his own billing. As behemoth teammate and fellow homegrown Bomber Aaron Judge drew the eyes of the league with an MVP-caliber first half, Sanchez followed up his 20-home run rookie torrent with his first career All-Star berth.

Statcast™ of the Day: Judge's 97.7-mph throw

"It's amazing. When you see Aaron Judge next to everyone, they look small. But Gary's a pretty big boy," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's very strong, he's got great bat speed, he's got the ability to adjust to pitches. Let's not forget what he's done."

Sanchez entered Tuesday with 14 homers, second among Major League catchers despite a DL stint, and they've been crushed -- his latest over the Green Monster on Friday. He leads the 145 double-digit homer hitters in average long-ball distance: 426 feet. Sanchez is second in homer exit velocity: 109.8 mph, behind only Judge's 110.9.

"I didn't know about those stats," Sanchez said through his translator. "But one thing I can tell you, is it really doesn't matter. Because what you want to do is just have a good swing."

Only one of Sanchez's homers has traveled under 400 feet -- an opposite-field rocket at Yankee Stadium with a 52-foot apex. Most hitters aren't strong enough to clear the wall with such a swing; most don't muscle out 111.9-mph line drives the other way.

Judge does, but Sanchez's power is different, more violent. Judge plants roots in the batter's box -- firm on his back leg, hands locked in position high behind his right shoulder -- and uses all 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds to drive the ball out, but only after it comes to him.

Sanchez -- even though he's 6-foot-2, 230 pounds -- does not hit like this. He stands with knees dipped, slightly hunched, wrists loose and bat low on his right shoulder until the final possible moment. When the pitcher starts his delivery, Sanchez's bat lifts. Mid-flight, the wrists draw back. And as the pitch reaches the hitting zone, they whip forward, bat lashing out to meet the ball.

That swing drove Sanchez's first-round Home Run Derby upset of baseball's other giant, reigning champ Giancarlo Stanton. Sanchez crushed 10 homers over 450 feet in the Derby, and even as he tired in Round 2, he hit his longest, 485 feet, per Statcast™.

Video: HRD Rd 1: Sanchez advances with 17-homer first round

"Wow," Judge said afterward. "I was over on the sidelines, just watching him, one after another after another. It was impressive. But I've seen Gary do that for years now."

But Sanchez's homers are going farther than before. On his historic rookie run, they averaged 407 feet -- nearly 20 feet shorter than in 2017 -- and his longest was 437 feet, which he's since exceeded four times, reaching a career-high 450. His contact is also harder: Sanchez ranks fifth in rate of 110-plus-mph contact (12.6 percent), and is one of six players with multiple batted balls of 115-plus, joining Judge, Stanton, Joey Gallo, Mark Trumbo and Manny Machado.

All the while, Sanchez cutting down thieves like few others can. Thanks to that cannonading right arm, on steal attempts of second this season, Sanchez has averaged a 1.91-second pop time -- the time from the catcher receiving the pitch to the fielder receiving the throw -- the third fastest in the Majors. Sanchez caught Trevor Plouffe at 1.82 seconds, which was the second fastest on a caught stealing at second behind All-Star teammate Salvador Perez's 1.81.

"The execution is the same all the time," Sanchez said. "Every time I throw to second base, I want to make a good throw and I'm trying to get it there as fast as possible."

The difference between Sanchez and the league is gaping. This year, the MLB average pop time to second on steal attempts is 2.00 seconds. The average throw velocity is 79.4 mph, far below Sanchez's 85.2. The only catchers with harder throws to catch runners than Sanchez's 86.1-mph max are Martin Maldonado and Willson Contreras.

Tweet from @_dadler: Gary Sanchez is a 2-way force. He was last year, he is this year. Here's #Statcast™ on his pop times and arm strength on SB attempts#Yankees pic.twitter.com/L971rbbbzL

At Old Timers' Day at Yankee Stadium, Jorge Posada was asked what most impressed him about this new generation of Yankees catcher.

"His arm," Posada said. "[And] obviously how strong he is."

The throws and the hits are born from the same place. That Sanchez can produce both is what makes him so dangerous, the synergy befitting an elite backstop in the game.

"When you're able to put up numbers like he can," Posada said, "he will be."

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

New York Yankees