When you think about catchers in the New York Yankees organization, Gary Sanchez is the name that will come to mind. However, in the lower levels of the minor league system, there is a player to keep an eye on is catcher Donny Sands.
For a system that doesn’t have much depth at the catcher position, Sands is going to be one of those players to watch as he climbs up the ranks. Last season, with Low-A Charleston and High-A Tampa, he had a slash line of .276/.328/.374 with four home runs and 55 RBI’s.
Sands has only been with the Yankees for two seasons since being drafted in the Eighth Round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Salponte Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. Despite not playing catcher while in high school, the Yankees had him play 14 games behind the plate for Rookie-Level Pulaski in 2016. Unfortunately, due to a concussion and shoulder injury, he didn’t get much playing time.
This past season, Pinstriped Prospects’ own Joe Dixon talked with Sands about his transition from third base to catcher and what was the toughest part about that transition
“The easiest part has been putting on the gear, that’s pretty much the easiest part. It’s just a lot of stuff. At third base, you’re worried about fielding ground balls and a few positioning things. You’re like a coach out there. You have to be paying attention, know what’s going on, so it’s tough. If you’re not prepared, it’s going to be tough.”
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights Sands has had with the Yankees organization in the last three seasons
Sands played 48 of his 55 games that season with one of the two Gulf Coast Yankees teams (GCL1). As the third baseman, he had a slash line of .309/.405/.364 with 25 RBI’s. Out of those 48 games, he had more than one hit in 16 of them.
If you look closely at his Gulf Coast numbers, he led the team in hits (50), was second in RBI’s (26), tied for second in walks (24), and fifth in on-base percentage (.405).
Since he performed well in the GCL, Sands got to play a week in Charleston. Despite only having one extra-base hit (a double) in nine games, the consistent hitting continued as he hit .310 with four RBI’s.
Last season, Sands appeared in 30 games between the two GCL teams and Pulaski. During that year, he made the position change to go from the hot corner to behind the plate, so the offensive numbers aren’t going to be great because of the focus on being a catcher.
After playing the first two months of the season in the GCL, Sands got promoted to Pulaski on August 4. In 16 games, he made an impact with his bat as he hit .300 with a pair of home runs, ten RBI’s, and walked six times.
Three weeks after being promoted, Sands had his best game of that season against the Johnson City Cardinals. He went 2-for-3 with a two-run home run and four RBI’s (tied a season-high) in a 8-0 Yankees win. Plus, he was hitting third behind some talented prospects such as Wilkerman Garcia and Estevan Florial.
While at Charleston, Sands got off to a slow start at the plate (.212 in April), but then he started to find his groove. In the month of May, the 21-year-old hit .324 with 11 RBI’s in 19 games. Out of the six games this past year he had three hits, two of them came in May.
The same trendline happened in the next two months for Sands. After struggling in the month of June (.200), he hit .357 (25-for-70) with 16 RBI’s in 19 games during July. Also, his eight walks were the highest he had in any month to go with a .423 on-base percentage.
As far as his best game of the season occurs, that arguably occurred on July 5 against Asheville. Sands went 3-for-4 that day with a single and a two-run home run in the top of the second. Charleston won that game 10-9 in ten innings.
If you look at the stats on the Riverdogs, Sands was third on the team in RBI’s (45) in only 76 games. Here is what MLB Pipeline has to say about his offensive game as he has been ranked the 24th best prospect in the system:
“One of the best pure hitters in the Yankees system, Sands has quick hands and a smooth right-handed stroke. He has great feel for the barrel and makes repeated line-drive contact.”
While Sands excelled on the field, one notable line defensively was his 22 passed balls. Now, that is to be expected from a player who is playing catcher in a full season for the first time. At the same time, he did throw out about 23 percent of runners trying to steal (Baseball Reference).
On August 6, Sands was promoted to High-A Tampa. In 17 games, he hit .306 with two home runs and ten RBI’s. Out of those 17 games, he had a hit in ten of them.
As we mentioned above, Sands is one of the best pure hitters in the entire system but what is amazing is how well he has taken to catching after just one full season. He has an above-average arm behind the plate with the potential to become one of the better defensive catchers in the system. Sands has drawn praise from the Yankees coaches for his knowledge of the game and his natural ability.
Heading into 2018, it seems likely that Sands will begin the season with Tampa and continue to work with the pitchers in the Florida State League. With the amount of high talent the Tampa Yanks might have, that could be a good test for him as he develops as a catcher.
With the Yankees not having much elite depth in the farm system at catcher, there is an opportunity for Sands to move up the system if his play warrants that. As he gets more experience behind the plate, his defense will be interesting to watch to see if that aspect of his game improves.