While Gary Sanchez Struggles, J.R. Murphy Makes Strides Behind Plate




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When Gary Sanchez tore up the Gulf Coast League last year, he showed hitting prowess reminiscent of Jesus Montero's rampage through the Rookie-level circuit in 2007.

But what was supposed to make Sanchez differ from his fellow Yankees prospect is his ability behind the plate. While questions about Montero's ability to stay behind the plate have dogged him throughout his pro career, Sanchez's hands, footwork and agility should all work to ensure he can stay behind the plate.

None of that has changed as far as his long-term projection, but Sanchez is struggling mightily on defense with low Class A Charleston. He already has allowed 13 passed balls, easily the worst mark in the South Atlantic League. Focus seems to be much of Sanchez's problem. He often will block a difficult breaking ball in the dirt, then clank a well-placed fastball on the corner off his mitt that rolls to the backstop.

"He stabs, he can't get across his body. It's bad form," a scout said.

If there is a piece of good news for Sanchez, it's that his early difficulties at the plate seemed to be more a function of his struggles defensively rather than any new holes in his swing. He's heated up offensively lately and is now hitting .238/.312/.402.

Sanchez does have four home runs, but he's struck out 37 times in 122 at-bats.

While Sanchez is struggling in Charleston, fellow catching prospect J.R. Murphy has shown significant improvement as a backstop. The two share the position, with Murphy catching two games, followed by Sanchez catching two.

Last year Murphy struggled enough defensively that the team tried him in the outfield and at third base during instructional league. He showed enough diligence and desire to catch, however, so the organization gave him another shot. He's made the club's patience pay off.

Murphy has shown significant improvement in his receiving and his throwing, to the point where he is clearly more advanced on defense than Sanchez is right now—though Sanchez's arm is significantly stronger. At the plate, Murphy has been on the RiverDogs top hitters. He's hitting .313/.348/.494.