Fantasy Baseball: What Should We Expect From Gary Sanchez?

How do we assess the young Yankees catcher who stormed into the American League Rookie of the Year picture last year?

If New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez had played a full season last year, he would have hit 487 homers, knocked in 1,488 runs, and had an OPS of a millionty-five.

Those are just some rough numbers I did in my head when I think back to the display the 23-year-old backstop put on for the Bombers over the last two months of the season. His numbers were so insane that it's quite frankly pretty hard to judge exactly what to expect of him this season.

From a fantasy perspective, he's one of the three best catchers in the league right now.

That's reflected in ESPN's first batch of rankings for 2017, in which Sanchez is listed as the second-best signal caller on the board at 112th overall, slotted after the San Francisco Giants' Buster Posey.

Is that too high, given Sanchez has only two months of baseball under his belt? Or should he be the top overall catcher on the board? Does ESPN have him in the sweet spot? What should we expect from him in 2017?

Will I ever stop asking questions?

2016 Recap: Dayum.

There's really not a whole lot more you can say about a dude who slugged 20 bombs in just 53 August and September contests.

I'm shaking my head in disapproval at the fact he couldn't manage to hit .300 though (he finished at .299), but I guess I'll cut him some slack due to his on-base percentage (.376), slugging percentage (.657), and wRC+ (171).

In fact, his rWAR of 3.0 ranked fourth among all MLB catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. The only guys ahead of him were Posey (4.7), Jonathan Lucroy (3.8), and Wilson Ramos (3.3). Sanchez was tied for fifth among MLB catchers with his 20 homers, and his OPS of 1.032 was the highest among all catchers in this group.

Carried out over a 500-plate-appearance season, Sanchez would have slugged 44 taters and would have had an rWAR of about 6.4. In 550 plate appearances, it would have been 48 longballs and a 7.0 rWAR.

That's MVP stuff, folks.

2017 Expectations

So, clearly, you should pencil in a 35-homer season and MVP-like season for Sanchez this year, right? Honestly, maybe you should.

Sanchez has always had good minor league numbers, with a wRC+ well over 100 at every stop and solid slash lines across the board. In 71 games at Triple-A last season he had a slash line of .282/.339/.468 with 10 homers in 313 plate appearances and a wRC+ of 131.

He hit .295/.349/.500 in 146 plate appearances in Triple-A the year before with 6 dingers, and he had an additional 12 homers at Double-A that same season.

He's always had well-above-average pop for a catcher, with an isolated power (ISO) of .187 in Triple-A last year, .205 in Triple-A in 2015, and .215 in Double-A that same year. But last year's .358 ISO was clearly an aberration.

A 30 to 35 homer season is not out of the realm of possibility, however. In each of the last three seasons, Sanchez has seen his tater totals improve.

In 2014, he slugged 13 dingers in Double-A. In '15, he hit 25 between a rehab start at rookie-ball level, Double-A and Triple-A, and then he smashed 30 in 2016 between Triple-A and the Majors.

And while Sanchez did see his strikeout rate jump from his historical average of around 20% to 24.9% last year in the bigs, his walk rate also increased, from a typical 7 to 8% in the minors to 10.5% in the Majors last year. Of course, that is what Major League Baseball is nowadays: just strikeouts, walks, and bombs.

When Sanchez did make contact, he hit the ball as hard as anyone. According to Statcast, he had an average exit velocity of 94.1 miles per hour, eighth-best in MLB, and barreled up more balls per plate appearance (10.5%) than all but two players last season, Khris Davis and Miguel Cabrera (barreling a ball means an exit velocity of at least 98 miles per hour or better and a launch angle of somewhere between 25 and 35 degrees). When a player "barrels" a ball, they typically have a batting average over .800 and a slugging percentage around 3.000, so barreling balls is a good thing!

Where Should You Draft Him?

You can make a case that Sanchez' upside makes him worthy of being the first overall selection at catcher, but I would still take Posey over him, simply because of Buster's track record. You know what you're getting with him.

But Sanchez has the potential to be the most dynamic offensive catcher in the game. Steamer projects him to knock 24 homers, second-most among catchers -- and most if Kyle Schwarber has lost catcher eligibility on your site of preference. His .348 wOBA would rank second behind only Posey among catchers, as well.

For plenty of reasons, selecting him second overall among catchers would be the best way to give yourself an edge at a position of offensive scarcity. He'll be very pricey in auction leagues, and one has to keep in mind that a regression will probably come at some point in the upcoming season.

Nevertheless, Sanchez is a stud. Draft him with minimal worry and enjoy the ride.