The New York Yankees have had their fair share of "catchers of the future," including those who were at one time billed to be the eventual successor to Jorge Posada.
Jesus Montero was traded to Seattle, and his future as a backstop is uncertain. Austin Romine dealt with a series of injuries and now looks destined to be a backup, at least for as long as he stays in New York.
Behind those two, at least in terms of development, has been Gary Sanchez, who's been on radar screens ever since the Yanks signed him for $3 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in July 2009. His progress has been uneven at times, though he did reach Double-A last season at age 20.
Sanchez has always been touted as having tremendous offensive upside, with power to spare -- something he's been able to tap into more as his approach has improved. He's always had a strong arm, but the rest of his defense -- while also better -- still needs to catch up. His tools, though, have never been in question. There have been some concerns about his work ethic, but even on that front, he's been moving in the right direction.
"[Sanchez] made some progress last year. He's got more progress to make," Yankees senior vice president of baseball operations Mark Newman said. "He was a 16-year-old kid when we signed him. It's more the rules than the exception that they're going to have to adjust to the work-ethic standards we have in professional baseball. He's a good kid. He wants to be a good player."
The 2013 season gave Sanchez, ranked No. 4 on MLB.com's top 10 catching prospects list and No. 1 among Yankees prospects, the kind of motivation a young player can often use to keep the fire burning. His season ended with a championship, the Double-A Eastern League title, with the Trenton Thunder.
"It's something that, in my four years with the Yankees, I'd never won a championship and I wanted to know how it felt to win a championship," Sanchez said at the recently completed Rookie Career Development Program. "It really feels good to be in the playoffs, win the final series and all that. I felt really good. I liked it. I want that to keep happening, a lot."
Whether it happens in New York remains to be seen. The Yanks signed seven-time All-Star Brian McCann to a five-year contract this offseason, seemingly creating a large roadblock for a young catcher like Sanchez. The positive is that now there's no rush to get Sanchez ready for the big leagues. He can continue to iron out his game, mature physically and mentally, without that kind of pressure.
"[Sanchez] has to go at the right pace," Newman said. "He needs to focus on taking care of his game. This game changes so fast. Brian's a heck of a player and he has a contract with some length. Gary just has to go out and get better."
Perhaps some time ago, Sanchez wouldn't have understood that message. But it sounds like he hears it loud and clear now.
"Their signing Brian McCann shouldn't have any bearing on me or cause me to become discouraged," Sanchez said. "What I've got to do is keep doing my job, do what they tell me and work hard. And they'll decide what to do with me. I can't go backward now, because the show goes on. You never know."