Though New York Yankees starting pitcher C.C. Sabathia was the center of attention during a rehab appearance for the Double-A Trenton Thunder on Wednesday night, many also took note of the man on the receiving end of the former All-Star’s pitches.
Sabathia’s second minor league rehab start began with Gary Sanchez, the top-rated prospect in the New York Yankees farm system by Baseball America, behind the plate. For Sanchez, getting an opportunity to work with a major league pitcher was a good test and a great way to enhance his own development.
“I think Gary’s capable of catching major-league pitchers,” Thunder manager Tony Franklin said before the game. “If we feel that he’s going to be a major-league catcher, let’s see how he handles a major-league pitcher.”
Catching Sabathia in a live game was uncharted territory for the 21-year-old prospect, but there was still a familiarity between the two. Sanchez revealed that he had caught bullpen sessions for Sabathia during spring training, and had also caught a simulated game for him in Tampa.
Though Sanchez revealed that being tabbed to catch Sabathia was an honor, he was trying not to let the opportunity get in his head.
“I’ve been catching [Sabathia] the same way I’m catching our pitchers right now,” Sanchez said before the game. “It’s part of the development as a catcher. I’ve just got to catch everybody like it’s just another day of work.”
Known primarily for his offensive prowess, the 6-foot-3, 235-pound catcher is constantly working on his development. When asked about the improvements he has made behind the plate, Sanchez spoke of his blocking, throwing, and game calling.
His development may have received a boost a few weeks ago, when current Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli was in town for a rehab assignment of his own. Having a major leaguer at the same position spending a few days with the team provided a great sounding board for Sanchez as he looks to improve.
“I talked to Cervelli about different parts of the game,” Sanchez recalled. “Different situations, how to call a game, and how to play defensively.”
The improvements in Sanchez’s game from when he first joined the Thunder last August are obvious to a trained eye. One American League scout called it “night and day” between his receiving skills then and now, an observation that Tony Franklin wholeheartedly agreed with.
“Let’s make no mistake about it, Gary’s a young catcher into his career,” Franklin said during his pre-game media session. “Like all young catchers, you’d like for him to be major league-ready ... but he’s made a lot of improvements. I’m really impressed.”
Franklin and scouts were not the only ones who displayed satisfaction with Sanchez’s development on Wednesday night. C.C. Sabathia came away impressed with Sanchez’s ability to analyze hitters and come up with a plan to get them out.
“I’ve thrown to Gary before in spring training, so we know each other,” Sabathia said. “It was the first time in a game situation, but I think he did a good job, especially in between innings we wanted to figure out the guys coming up, what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to work on.”