Yanks' Sanchez took full advantage of chance

Catcher's ROY case built on only two months, but, oh, what a two months

Yanks' Sanchez took full advantage of chance

NEW YORK -- Any discussion of Gary Sanchez's candidacy for the American League Rookie of the Year Award must include a brief history lesson, as the Yankees slugger is hoping to follow a path forged more than five decades ago by future Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.

McCovey made his Major League debut with a four-hit game on July 30, 1959, and he didn't slow much after that, earning unanimous selection as the National League's top rookie by hitting .354 with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs and a 1.085 OPS in just 52 games.

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Sanchez's torrid late-summer surge of 20 home runs in his first 51 big league games was arguably even more impressive, sending observers rifling through the record books to uncover a dusty 86-year-old record established by Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves.

Add in the fact that Sanchez's play on both sides of the ball following his Aug. 3 callup helped keep the Yanks in postseason contention late into September, and the 23-year-old quickly earned his spot alongside more traditional AL Rookie of the Year Award candidates like the Tigers' Michael Fulmer and the Indians' Tyler Naquin.

"When I came up, what I was thinking about was just getting the opportunity to play," Sanchez said through an interpreter. "They gave me the opportunity, I became the everyday catcher, and good things have happened for me. At the same time, it has been a special time for me because of everything that has happened."

Fulmer (11-7, 3.06 ERA in 26 starts) and Naquin (.296/.372/.514, 14 HRs, 43 RBIs in 116 games) turned in worthy campaigns, with the promising newcomers taking advantage of their opportunity to spend the full season in the Majors, but neither player's debut would be classified as historic.

That was the case with Sanchez, who homered in a remarkable 8.7 percent of his 229 plate appearances.

"I think everybody on the team calls 'home run' when he steps up there," said Yankees rookie Tyler Austin. "When you get on a roll like he's on and the way he's swinging the bat, I feel like every time he steps in the box, it could be a home run."

As impressive as Sanchez's final .299/.376/.659 slash line looks, his rocket arm nailed 41 percent of attempted basestealers (13-for-32), making opponents take notice while he grabbed the Yanks' starting catcher duties from veteran Brian McCann.

"I think defensively he has been much more than maybe we had anticipated -- the accuracy to his throws, the arm strength that he has, his blocking ability," Red Sox manager John Farrell said in September. "He's a front-line player."

Experienced hurlers like the Yankees' CC Sabathia also raved about Sanchez's demeanor behind the plate, showing no hesitation to visit the mound regularly. McCann tipped his cap repeatedly, owning no argument to losing his playing time behind the plate.

"Everyone already knew he belonged, it was just a matter of him getting an opportunity," McCann said. "So for him to go to Triple-A, do the things he did, he's carried on up here, and he's going to be catching for a long, long time in this league. It's fun to watch."

Advanced metrics also offer an edge to Sanchez. Despite being stashed in Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for most of the season's first four months, Sanchez's 3.2 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) led all AL rookie position players, with Naquin second at 2.5 fWAR. Fulmer's 3.0 fWAR led all AL rookie pitchers.

"I think you've got to think about it, you really do," Yanks manager Joe Girardi said. "I know people are going to argue he's only been here two months, but his two months have been as good as it gets."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.