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Yankees’ Gary Sánchez had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever

Detroit Tigers pitcher Michael Fulmer was named American League Rookie of the Year earlier today, confirming one of the most controversial award snubs in recent baseball history.

Gary Sánchez, the Yankees’ phenomenal catcher, produced two absurd months of play, quickly eclipsing Fulmer in FanGraphs WAR, yet Fulmer takes the gong merely because he was around for more of the season.

That’s dumb.

Sánchez reached 20 home runs quicker than anybody who has ever appeared on a major league diamond, breaking the plateau in just 51 games. Promoted from Triple-A in August, the 23-year old hit .299 with a 1.032 OPS, usurping Brian McCann as the Yankees’ starting catcher. Rarely have we witnessed a greater start to any baseball career.

A prized prospect, Gary enjoyed a cup of coffee with the Yankees in 2015 and was briefly called up earlier this summer as the Bombers faced a slew of southpaw pitchers. When Hal Steinbrenner gave Brian Cashman the green light to tear down his crumbling roster and expedite a rebuild, Sánchez found a new home in the Bronx, where he may be the next household name.

In a flurry of deadline moves, Cashman traded Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Carlos Beltran, pivoting the Yankees’ philosophy from win-now to dominate-tomorrow. Sánchez filled one of the vacant roster spots, figuring to split time with McCann and learn under the veteran’s wing. Instead, he totally outshone the burly backstop, bludgeoning his way to the front of New York’s youth movement.

A salve for sore eyes, all potential and shiny enthusiasm, Gary carried the Yankees’ carcass to the precipice of respectability. At one point, the home runs were so plentiful and the throws so powerful as to spark murmurs of belief that the Yanks might even sneak back into the American League wildcard race. Those hopes faded, but Sánchez’ travelling clinic did not. He just got better and better.

The greatest rookie season in MLB history?

Gary hit his first career home run on August 10 amid a 4-for-5 day. His first two-homer game arrived six days later, before consecutive American League Player of the Week awards made the world sit up and take notice of those damn Yankees again. Sánchez duly became the first player in Major League history with at least 11 home runs and 31 hits in his first 23 career games. How do you like that for an introduction?

Voted MLB Player of the Month and Rookie of the Month for August, Gary continued his unprecedented tear in September, clubbing mammoth dingers and shutting down the running game of any opponent who dared test his cannon arm.

Sánchez hit the 18th and 19th home runs of his career in his 45th game, faster than anybody who ever laced a pair of cleats. Meanwhile, at 1.90 seconds, he had the best average pop time to second base of all major league catchers, establishing himself as an ominous threat on both sides of the ball.

The Yankees' youth movement

A few days into his big league career, Sánchez had a front row seat as Alex Rodriguez enjoyed a rather awkward farewell game. Although his skills were greatly diminished, A-Rod’s sudden retirement left a void in terms of superstar charisma at Yankee Stadium. For the first time in decades, the Yankees never had a Hall of Fame-calibre legacy on their roster. Or maybe they did. Maybe Gary Sánchez was, and is, that guy. Maybe it was just how Cashman drew it up.

These are unusual times on River Avenue. For the first time in more than twenty years, the Yankees are transitioning their focus and transplanting their core. Luis Severino will likely transition to the starting rotation next year, an electric arm with a bright future. Aaron Judge is now the starting right fielder, a towering monument to positivity. Meanwhile, Didi Gregorius has distinguished himself as a hidden jewel at shortstop, filling the shoes of Derek Jeter.

Every great team needs a catcher, though, and Yankee history illustrates that need with tremendous finesse. The lineage of Posada, Munson, Howard, Berra and Dickey demands a worthy incumbent. An effervescent supernova, Gary Sánchez may just carry that flame. If his rookie year is an accurate predictor of future success, The Kraken has a chance to join that immortal pantheon.

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Ryan Ferguson is the author of Conflict: The Yankees, the Red Sox and the War for My Heart, available now in paperback and Kindle formats through Amazon. Click the link below to get your copy now!

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