Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez at age 20 in 2013, left, and at age 23 in 2016.
By Brendan Kuty
NEW YORK — Mark Newman won’t forget it.
Newman, then the head of the Yankees‘ farm system, was at its training complex in Boca Chica, Dominican Republic. He was with a few youngsters the team was working out. They were playing a game: Hit a home run to right field, center and then left.
Gary Sanchez, then 16 years old, needed just four swings.
“We didn’t have many other kids do that,” Newman said via phone interview on Saturday.
Now 23, Major League Baseball doesn’t have many — or really any — other players doing what Sanchez is right now.
Sanchez went 2-for-4 in Sunday’s 5-0 loss to the Orioles at Yankee Stadium to up his batting average to .405 in 22 games this season. When he hit his 11th career homer (and of the season) on Saturday, he became the fastest player in history to reach the mark. He’s also got eight doubles, 21 RBI and a 1.361 OPS.
Newman and general manager Brian Cashman vividly remember scouting, working out and signing Sanchez to a $3 million bonus in 2009.
At the time, Sanchez was far from an unknown.
“He worked out for everybody,” Cashman said.
But the Yankees dug deep on him.
Newman said every single one of the Yankees’ scouts in the Dominican had seen Sanchez, big with broad shoulders an arm maybe as strong as it is today. International player development executives Donny Rowland and Gordon Blakeley, now a Braves special assistant to the GM, and the organization’s lead Dominican scout Victor Mata each pushed Newman and Cashman to commit to Sanchez.
There was plenty to like.
“Gary was a special player,” said Newman, who retired before the 2015 season. Gary Denbo has since taken over as the organization’s player development leader.
“He had such a good arm for a 15-year-old,” Newman said. “He could catch the ball. He wasn’t a technically solid catcher back then, but his hands were fine. His arm was a plus. The power was a plus. His bat — he had solid hitting ability.”
Despite a lack of formal education, Newman said, he knew Sanchez was bright.
“(Sanchez) had kind of a tough background,” he said. “But he was intuitive about the game. And he was kind of like he is now: quiet, kind of emotionally controlled, even though he’s probably run through some emotions he probably hasn’t experienced before over the last month.”
Another big plus: Sanchez’s bat was a rarity at his position. It’s what separated him from Miguel Sano, whom the Yankees also courted at the time. Sano ended up getting $3.1 million from Minnesota.
“It was his position,” Newman said. “Sano was a third baseman at the time. Gary was a catcher. Gary is still a catcher. Sano has played some third base, but he’s also been a DH and in the outfield.”
In February of 2009, Cashman flew to the D.R. to see a 15-year-old Sanchez up close. He remembers the workout well.
“He looked like a college catcher,” Cashman said, “someone you’d see at Arizona State.”
The workout was at 10 a.m., Cashman said. At 1 p.m., Sanchez walked over to the Mets’ complex — a short distance from the Yankees’ — and worked out for them, too.
“I wished he wasn’t doing that but he was doing that for everybody,” Cashman said. “The price tag was high.”
But by then, the Yankees were already convinced.
“We had lived through the Jorge Posada years,” Cashman said, referring to the Core Four catcher who was one of the best hitters at his position. “There are very few offensive-complimentary catchers — if you get to the majors as a catcher, you can already defend. Obviously the bat wasn’t a question. All that led us to believe he could, with a lot of hard work, be a special player for us.”
Newman said he believes that Sanchez’s hard work won’t stop despite his success.
“He wants to be a good player,” Newman said. “He really, really wants to be a good player.”