At what level should Gary Sanchez start 2015?

After Tuesday’s game, the Yankees optioned Gary Sanchez to Double-A Trenton. Don’t read that as the Yankees deciding it as where he’ll open the season, however. As Donnie Collins notes, the final call can still be made at any time between now and opening day. The general consensus is that the Dominican-born catching prospect will open 2015 with Triple-A Scranton, but I think there’s a case to be made for him returning to the Thunder to begin the season.

Sanchez certainly held his own last year in Double-A, but he didn’t dominate by any stretch of the imagination. In 477 plate appearances, he belted 13 homers and posted a triple-slash of .270/.338/.406 (108 wRC+) as a 21 year-old. Those numbers look a tad better considering the Eastern League’s average age was 24.7 years-old last season. Gary also had a 23 game stint with Trenton in 2013 in which he posted a 113 wRC+. Given that he’s spent more than one year at the level, I can understand why some believe it’s time for him to take the next step to Triple-A. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean it’s the best route for the young catcher.

Sanchez, the Yankees’ 13th best prospect, has been on the radar ever since he signed a $3M bonus as an international amateur free agent in 2009. His prospect shine has faded a little bit, but he undoubtedly still has the tools to be a pretty good player at the big league level. Fangraphs’ Kiley McDaniel indicates that Sanchez’ offensive potential is a 55-60 bat and 60 power on the 20-80 scouting scale, which would be fantastic for a catcher. Despite a good arm, his defense is still subpar and there are makeup questions abound. Chris’ projection system KATOH isn’t a big fan, forecasting 3.1 WAR through age 28.

Whether the now 22 year-old Sanchez opens the season at Double- or Triple-A, he’ll still be younger than the competition. At either level, he needs to display some offensive improvement if he wants to avoid falling further back in the minds of talent evaluators. Although there might be an open spot for him in Triple-A, maybe his best chance to make a jump with the bat is at Double-A again. By now, he should be pretty comfortable at the level considering his mild success last year, so I think it’d be fair to expect even better results with another look at the level. If he were to start with Trenton, it wouldn’t be a full year sentence of course. Rather, the goal should be for him to force his way to Scranton in a couple of months time.

One other consideration is Sanchez’ path to the majors. Yes, there’s an open spot for him at Triple-A assuming John Ryan Murphy is the major league backup, but the case isn’t the same for the next few years at the big league level. Brian McCann is under contract through 2018, and Sanchez also has a competitor in Murphy. Thus, there’s no real need to hurry him up to Triple-A, especially when he would still be younger than his average counterpart in the Eastern League.

Moreover, considering that there isn’t an opening at the big league level in the near future, it’s plausible that Sanchez becomes trade bait soon. Yet, the problem with dangling him is that his stock is at an all-time low. How can that be turned around? Perhaps the best way to rebuild his value is to allow him to master Double-A. Some might try to discount any potential success at a repeated level, but once one considers his age relative to his peers, playing at Double-A again shouldn’t jade any scout’s opinion.

There’s undoubtedly an opportunity for Sanchez to play in Scranton at some point this year, but I’m not sure if starting the season there is ideal for Sanchez and the Yankees. Of course, the Yankees have professionals in player development to make this kind of decision, but I think I’ve outlined a decent case for Sanchez to begin the season with the Thunder. He hasn’t been overwhelmingly good offensively in recent seasons, his glove needs work, discipline is a question, and age is still on his side. Why push him to Triple-A immediately? The organization can still bide its time with Sanchez for a month or two in Double-A.

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