Sanchez keeps AFL Star honors with Yanks

Catcher's early homer sparks West squad's win in Stars Game

Sanchez keeps AFL Star honors with Yanks

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- As if the New York Yankees didn't already have enough traditions, the Bronx Bombers now have another: Fall Stars Bowman Star of the Game in the AFL's Fall Stars Game.

Gary Sanchez, the physically impressive catcher, took the honors on Saturday night for steering the West toward an 8-3 win at Salt River Fields with a two-run homer in the fourth.

Last year, Greg Bird received the hardware for the home run that triggered a 6-2 East win. Bird spent the latter half of this season hitting balls out of Yankee Stadium.

"No, I wasn't aware of that," Sanchez, speaking through an interpreter, said of the Bird precedent. "But I expect to soon be doing the same thing, in New York."

Sanchez's blast was the first of four homers that entertained 6,793 fans, but it clearly left a lasting impression.

"I wasn't expecting it," Sanchez said of the plaque in his arms, "because other hitters did a good job, too. But I took it, and it's something I feel really good about."

Being selected Fall Stars Bowman Star of the Game is the culmination of a parlay that begins with selection to participate in the AFL and continues with being chosen for its all-star game. It could even be an E-Z Pass to the Majors, as was the case for Bird.

Sanchez affirmed his impressive power on the homer that got the West on the scoreboard after being blanked on one single through three innings. He took a somewhat off-balance swing at a Kyle Freeland pitch, yet still had the strength to generate an exit velocity of 106 mph according to Statcast™ and send the ball halfway up the hill beyond the left-field fence.

Truth in advertising: Sanchez is the AFL leader halfway through the season with six homers, so the showcase homer was just routine business. Sanchez has been doing a lot more than just hitting balls over fences, carrying a .328 average through the first half of the AFL season, and with 17 RBIs lead the league.

Sanchez's most admirable feat actually may have come three innings earlier. With Christian Arroyo running on a first-inning pitch, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound catcher uncoiled from his crouch and unleashed a strong, low throw so on the spot that second baseman Ramon Torres didn't have to move his glove to apply the timely tag.

"I am proud of that," Sanchez said. "Part of my job is to throw people out, to stop the running game, and I was able to do that."

It's all part of the package that has Sanchez ranked as the Yankees' No. 5 prospect. Perhaps more impressive is the fact MLBPipeline.com also rates Sanchez No. 8 among all catching prospects.

As MLB's "finishing school," the AFL features players believed to be on the cusp of the Majors. Sanchez is one of the few who has already had his cup (of coffee) in the Majors. He was called up by the Yankees in mid-September, and got a couple of pinch-hit at-bats without ever getting behind the plate.

"It was still a nice experience," he said. "Now I know how everything works, and will feel that much more comfortable the next time I get there."

It should be a quick trip, as the crow (or Bird) flies.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.