It was a difficult decision, but Gary Sanchez has elected to place club over country.
After originally committing to play for his native Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, Sanchez ultimately decided to back out and skip the event in order to fully immerse himself in preparation for his first full season with the Yankees.
“I actually said yes, and initially I was going to be on the (WBC) team, but last week I spoke to my family, and the more I thought about it the more I felt I had to be in spring training for the full spring training to get ready for the season,” Sanchez said through a translator Tuesday before being honored at the Thurman Munson Awards Dinner in Midtown.
The 24-year-old catcher finished runner-up for AL Rookie of the Year award last season after hitting 20 home runs in just 53 games as a rookie. It seems improbable to believe, but during big-league spring training in 2016, he had just two hits in 22 at-bats before hitting .225 at Triple-A Scranton in April.
“I’ve actually always been a slow starter, so I’m not changing anything in particular,” said Sanchez, who rebounded to hit .358 at Triple-A in May. “But I am approaching this spring training with a lot of intensity, and I’m not resting on my laurels after the two months that I had last season.”
Sanchez will face high expectations in 2017, but those around him say he won’t be fazed by it, noting his obliviousness toward negative energy. Baseball people have also praised his ability to adapt at the plate and anticipate breaking pitches, which should help him now that he’s going to be the Bombers’ top hitter on opposing scouting reports.
“I don’t think I’m the face of the Yankees,” Sanchez said. “There are 25 faces on the Yankees who can be on the field on any given day, and we just have to work together to help the team win.”
Sanchez put an emphasis on strength work and his receiving skills − specifically his framing ability − this offseason in hopes of catching over 100 big-league games in 2017.
“I mean, that’s a goal that I have for this year. I’m aiming to catch 130-140 games health permitting and if the Yankees write my name in the lineup enough,” he said.
Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka also confirmed he would not participate at the WBC for Japan in late January after representing his country in 2009 and 2013. Tanaka can opt out of his contract at season’s end.
The 2017 WBC runs from March 6-22. Didi Gregorius is reportedly going to represent the Netherlands, while Dellin Betances, who faces an upcoming arbitration hearing with the Yankees this month, has confirmed that he will pitch for the Dominican Republic.