As a kid in the Dominican Republic, Gary Sanchez used to play catch with a lime. It was all his family could afford. To hit, Sanchez would find a broomstick and the heads of dolls.
He eventually would develop his skills a little more conventionally, and he wound up signing with the Yankees for a $3 million bonus as a 16-year-old. But when he first arrived stateside, he didn't know how to train properly. He was just a teenager, after all.
"It takes time to become a pro, to train to become a pro,” Sanchez said.
His story, from rags to Major League Baseball's richest franchise, has made Sanchez a centerpiece of the post-A-Rod, post-Core Four Yankees. He is a new face of the organization, a guy fans will pay to see. His humble beginnings and commitment to being a major leaguer give the team few worries when it comes to a sophomore slump.
The Yankees no longer need to tell Sanchez to keep working. They have seen his dedication the past two years and they expect it to continue. What they don't necessarily expect is for Sanchez to be as incredible as he was in his 53 games as a rookie.
“I don’t know if you can repeat that type of year," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "That kind of is impossible.”
Now 24, Sanchez has a chance to be an All-Star this season. And if he comes anywhere close to last year's pace -- in which he hit 20 home runs in 53 games -- the sky's the limit.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS has Sanchez finishing with 27 homers in 2017, which is not too shabby. ZiPS also projects a .255 batting average with an .803 OPS. Those are pretty good numbers for a catcher, but far lower than his rookie numbers (.299 and 1.032, respectively). Of course, Sanchez may one day make the Hall of Fame and still never have a 53-game stretch like he had to begin his career.
Sanchez is an elite talent, but that doesn't mean he will be a success. It can be argued, too, that he isn't even the most important young player on his team.
That could be Luis Severino because the Yankees have failed to develop young starting pitching, and Severino was touted as a cornerstone. It could be Greg Bird because the Yankees, for a long time, have had a bedrock at first (Mark Teixeira). It could be Aaron Judge because he is built like a pass-rushing defensive lineman and could be a megastar -- if he hits.
A little more than a year ago, Severino was supposed to be the next ace of the Yankees' staff, maybe as early as last season. Now, he is either going to win the fourth or fifth spot in the rotation or be sent to Triple-A. Bird, the Yankees' projected first baseman this season, had a very good debut in 2015 before missing all of 2016 with a torn labrum. Judge struck out in 42 of his 84 at-bats last year.
In other words, there are no sure things. Still, of the Yankees' young hopefuls, Sanchez seems most likely to be a star for the next five to 10 years.
"I’ve been around the game long enough to know that you can never count on anything,” Cashman said.
But betting on talent usually is the right call. Sanchez has plenty of that. While it is hard to imagine he will grow at the plate, he could get even better behind it.
Sanchez can throw as well as anyone, and pitchers say he calls a good game -- which is backed up by taskmaster, former catcher and current Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Sanchez blocks balls. He is the total package.
That, more than anything, is what is important to Girardi, who puts defense first when he looks for an ideal catcher.
Sanchez is everything the Yankees want at the position. He showed that last year. Now he just has to do it again.