With spring training 2.0 slated to begin next week, Ali Sanchez is set to compete for a roster spot in the major leagues.
While there hasn’t been an official announcement just yet, the minor league season is expected to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This means most of the New York Mets minor-league players won’t have anywhere to play this summer. With that said, the team will be allowed to carry 30 players on its active roster through the first two weeks of the season and 28 players for two weeks after that.
Along with expanded rosters, teams will also be permitted to carry a “taxi squad” of 20 players, with three of them receiving permission to travel on road trips throughout the 2020 campaign. Additionally, any player on the Mets 60-man roster that isn’t playing in the major leagues will be allowed to practice at the team’s alternate site in Brooklyn.
Before spring training was originally canceled back in March, the Mets were likely planning to carry just two catchers — Wilson Ramos and Tomas Nido — in 2020. Now, there’s a very good chance they’ll want to bring a third backstop with them coming out of this summer training camp.
As for which catchers could be in the running for that role, Ali Sanchez appears to be the clear favorite considering he’s already on the team’s 40-man roster. Adding him to the squad during the offseason, New York didn’t want to expose Sanchez to the Rule 5 Draft. This is due to the fact that his elite defensive skills would’ve likely booked him a ticket to another organization.
In a normal season, the Venezuela native would’ve been sent back down to Triple-A Syracuse to continue developing his craft. Unfortunately, that option will likely be unavailable this season, as playing in the major leagues will be his only way to participate in live games during the 2020 campaign.
Aside from Sanchez, Rene Rivera and Patrick Mazeika could also be given opportunities to fight for a major-league spot. However, neither of these players are featured on the Mets 40-man roster and they’d need to be included on their taxi squad, which must be submitted by Sunday.
Unless someone suffers a serious injury or catches the coronavirus, New York probably won’t be making many tweaks to its 40-man roster before the regular season commences. With that in mind, there’s a very good chance Sanchez will break camp in Queens next month.
While the 23-year-old might not see much of the field before rosters are cut down to 26 players by the end of August, he could still gain some valuable experience in MLB. Learning from Ramos — a 32-year-old veteran — the young signal-caller would be able to receive advice from an experienced major-leaguer.
Since Sanchez is a defensive-first catcher, he could also gain some much-needed hitting tools from the two-time All-Star. After struggling at the plate during his limited action in Triple-A last year, the right-handed batter will have a ton of work to do in the batter’s box moving forward.
Following his strong start for Double-A Binghamton, the 6-foot catcher failed to carry his encouraging results over to the next level. He produced just four doubles, three RBI’s, a .217 BABIP, .071 ISO, 40 wRC+ score, and a slashing line of .179/.277/.250/.527 over his 65 plate appearances.
Despite these disappointing metrics, Sanchez improved his overall production at the plate during the 2019 Arizona Fall League. In addition to his stellar defensive performance, the youngster remained patient at the dish and created consistent contact to all sides of the field.
Even though the below-average slugger hit just two doubles, he was still able to generate a .314 BABIP, 12.2% walk rate, 16.3% strikeout rate along with a slashing line of .262/.347/.310/.656 through his 49 plate appearances.
While Sanchez won’t offer much offensive upside for the Mets this season, he could provide them with quality defense. If needed, he could be inserted into the lineup and instantly make an impact.
Similar to Nido, pitchers enjoy throwing to Sanchez and appreciate his ability to steal strikes by impressively framing pitches. In addition, the young catcher has also been very successful at throwing out runners on the basepaths, having recorded a 46% caught-stealing percentage through his six minor-league seasons.
Unless the Mets catching corps becomes riddled with injuries, Sanchez probably won’t be included on the 26-man roster in 2020. With that said, he could still travel with the ballclub on road trips this season, since every team must carry at least one catcher on its taxi squad.
Even though New York likely envisioned a different plan for Sanchez in 2020, taking this route could be the best way to help continue his development during this unprecedented situation. Furthermore, it could also increase his chances of taking over the starting role in 2021.
If the Mets decide to save some money this winter, they could buy out Ramos’ $10 million club option for just $1.5 million. As a result, Sanchez would likely be in prime position to become the everyday backstop next year.
But before jumping ahead to 2021, Sanchez will need to focus on taking strides at the plate this season and during the 2020 AFL as well. Along with his goals from the batter’s box, he must also continue polishing his defensive skills throughout the shortened 2020 campaign.