When you look around the New York Yankees organization, one of the positions where there isn’t a lot of depth at the upper levels of the system is at catcher. That gives someone like Donny Sands an opportunity to get consistent playing time as he continues his development.
Sands was selected by the Yankees in the Eighth Round of the 2015 MLB Draft out of Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, Arizona. It was an injury-plagued year for Sands in 2018 as he appeared in only 27 games and didn’t begin his season until June because of a broken forearm.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights Sands has had with the Yankees organization over the course of the last four years:
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.
In 2016, 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 an 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 that he had three hits in that season, 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.
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.
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.
Sands began his season a year ago on a rehab assignment where he played three teams in the Gulf Coast League. On June 21, he went back up to the Tarpons for a couple of weeks before going back on the DL July 15 after being hit by a pitch on the wrist the night before.
One month later, Sands would go back on the DL on August 5 and he would return at the end of the month for one more game. Out of the 28 games that he played in, Sands did have a multi-hit game in seven of those contests.
On June 24, Sands went 4-for-5 against Jupiter after going 3-for-5 against them two days prior. He did have 23 hits on the season, but only five of those went for extra bases and they were all doubles.
While Sands had a small sample size in 2018, he did show off the strong throwing arm that he has. He threw out six of the 24 runners that tried to steal bases on him. While at Staten Island, I had the chance to get Yankees’ catching coordinator JD Closser’s thoughts on Sands and he mentioned how quick he was able to catch up on things despite missing a lot of time:
“He’s done a nice job. He’s progressing in the right direction. Hopefully, he can make up some lost time and continue to improve and show the improvements he made over the last year and keep that going,” said Closser.
The passed balls for Sands are still something to keep an eye on as he continues to get more time behind the plate. In 24 games with Tampa in ’18, he had seven passed balls.
Since Sands did not get to play much last year, expect him to start the season in Tampa. If he can dominate the action in the Florida State League, then the 22-year-old could make his way to Double-A Trenton by the end of the year.
The interesting thing to watch with Sands this year is how he will do after having a full offseason to rehab from his injuries. While the Yankees drafted a lot of catchers in June, Sands is the catcher furthest along in the system and will have a chance to stand out in ’19 if he stays on the field and continues his development behind the plate.