TAMPA, Fla. -- The Yankees appear to have settled one of their larger decisions of the spring, and Austin Romine is the likely backup catcher after touted prospect Gary Sanchez was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday.
Sanchez, 23, is rated as the Yankees' No. 3 prospect by MLBPipeline.com and was believed to be the favorite heading into camp, but he produced just one hit in 21 at-bats (.048). Manager Joe Girardi believes Sanchez was pressing to make the Opening Day roster.
"It's the first time he's really had that opportunity," Girardi said. "It's not the first time we've seen players maybe press a little bit. You don't see the true player come out in Spring Training the first time they have an opportunity to make a club, but I think he'll be better off for this, and it will help his growth."
The 27-year-old Romine is a lifetime .201 hitter in 169 big league at-bats dating back to 2011, and he has been with the organization since the Yanks selected him in the '07 Draft. Girardi said he believed Romine was "relaxed, had a mission and he's played well."
One year after losing a spring competition with John Ryan Murphy to serve as Brian McCann's backup, Romine is 6-for-22 (.273) with four doubles and four RBIs, and the club has been pleased with his defense.
"I've been a Yankee my whole career," Romine said last week. "They've given me and my family everything that I have, multiple opportunities, and I would love nothing more than to make it here. Right now, I'm just trying to break camp and get an 'NY' on my shirt."
Non-roster invitee Carlos Corporan also remains in camp, though he has logged just four hits in 21 at-bats (.190) and has an out in his contract at the end of this month.
"There's Corporan and Romine left, basically," Girardi said. "They're kind of competing for that spot, so we'll continue to evaluate. Those two have had a good spring, and I think it's important that Sanchey goes and plays and gets it going. He's going to be a really good player."
Girardi said the Yankees believe Sanchez will develop into an everyday big league backstop. If so, one potential benefit of the demotion regards Sanchez's contractual status; if Sanchez spends 35 days in the Minors this year, it would delay his free agency until after the 2022 season.
In a quirky bit of timing, the Yankees announced that Sanchez was heading to Minor League camp just minutes after he and Luis Severino were named as the winners of the 2015 Kevin Lawn Award, indicative of the organization's Minor League "Player of the Year" and "Pitcher of the Year," respectively. Both players received their awards in a pregame ceremony on the field.
The Yankees have pushed Jacoby Ellsbury's expected return back to Saturday against the Blue Jays in Dunedin. Ellsbury took batting practice Thursday but told Girardi that his bruised right wrist was "not quite there yet" to play in a game. Ellsbury has not played since being hit by a pitch on Saturday against the Braves.
"It's just kind of a little discomfort, I think," Girardi said.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.