Gary Sanchez has had issues involving his attitude, but he's gone a long way toward quieting the buzz he might be too troublesome for even his talent. And he's made a believer of his manager, Luis Sojo.
Sojo's faith in Sanchez was reaffirmed Saturday as the Yankees' top prospect belted his first two homers of the season in Class A Advanced Tampa's 9-4 win over the visiting Daytona Cubs.
"Gary's a guy with great talent," said Sojo, the winningest manager in Florida State League history. "He's a kid who has to focus a little more on the game, the pregame stuff, stuff like that. But there's no doubt he's a great talent, and he showed that tonight.
"I think he's going to be all right."
Sanchez's power potential is elite and his approach at the plate ever-improving. On Saturday night, he pulled his first homer, a three-run shot, over the left-field fence on a fastball middle-in. The second, a solo shot in the fifth, was an opposite-field jack on a fastball middle-away.
"I'm just thinking about the middle of the field," Sanchez said through a translator. "I'm trying to make sure I have a good pitch to hit all the time. That's something I've been working on when taking batting practice and working with the hitting coaches in the cage -- getting good pitches and staying to the middle of the field."
Sanchez's offensive potential is special. And in nine games this season, he's hitting .351 with a .385 on-base percentage and .622 slugging percentage. A year ago, he slugged 18 homers while batting .290 across the South Atlantic League and FSL, helping him earn the No. 36 spot on MLB.com's Top 100 prospects in the offseason.
But questions remain about whether Sanchez will stick behind the plate. He has the tools, including an above-average arm, and Sojo sees improvement in the 20-year-old. Still, English is troublesome for the native of the Dominican Republic, making communicating with pitchers difficult.
"No, he struggles," Sojo said when asked if Sanchez communicates well with English-speaking pitchers. "That's one thing we keep telling him. He has to learn that. It's very important to speak English at that position. He's been making that adjustment."
"I think I'm getting a lot better," Sanchez said. "The higher I go, I have to be able to communicate with the pitchers. The coaches and Luis Sojo, they've been doing a nice job with me and the pitching coach [Jeff Ware] and pitchers going over scouting reports."
Beyond breaking down the language barrier, Sanchez has worked extensively with Yankees Minor League catching instructor Julio Mosquera on smoothing out other fundamentals. Sojo thinks that's helped.
Against Daytona, Sanchez served as the Yankees' designated hitter, which is where he may end up long-term if his defensive game doesn't sharpen. There would be worse things, since Sanchez's bat might be good enough to shine even as a DH. But if the 20-year-old can stick behind the dish, he could become something special in the Bronx.
"It's a little bit of everything," Sojo said. "He's got to work a little more with the pitchers and get to know them better, but that's a process you learn over the years. He's making that adjustment. That'll come.
"Defensively, he's got a plus arm. Like I said, his relationship with the pitchers is the most important thing for him. He's got to fight to learn to improve his communication with the pitchers. As a catcher, that's very important. He's come along. He's still only 20 years old. He's still learning how to play this game. Eventually, he's going to be OK."
Mason Williams, the Yankees' No. 2 prospect, contributed two doubles and two RBIs for Tampa, while Mikey O'Brien (1-1) struck out seven over five innings and allowed two runs on five hits and a walk.
For Daytona, Cubs top prospect Javier Baez tripled, doubled and scored twice. Stephen Bruno also had two hits and drove in two runs.