TAMPA — Yankees catchers threw to bases Saturday and first-year catching instructor Tanner Swanson’s new lower base setup was on display.
While six other catchers participated in the drill, Gary Sanchez drew the most eyeballs.
The lower setup is designed to improve Sanchez’ ability to frame borderline pitches in the bottom of the strike zone but not interfere with his improved blocking skills or take anything away from an above-average throwing arm. It also may reduce the stress on Sanchez’s legs, which have suffered muscle injuries the past two seasons that landed him on the injured list a combined four times.
According to Swanson, Sanchez’s improved blocking led to a dip in pitch framing a year ago.
“His blocking got better and we saw regression in framing,’’ Swanson said following a workout at Steinbrenner Field. “There is a tradeoff in a lot of ways. You try to maximize one and there is a give and take.’’
Swanson’s challenge is to get his catchers to find a position where they can excel in framing the low pitches, blocking balls and throwing to bases.
The lower setup position is equal with both hips.
Gary SanchezCharles Wenzelberg/New York Post
“It sinks your center mass and you are working from the ground up,’’ Swanson said.
Earlier in the week Sanchez explained there has been some difficulty with the new setup, but he is making progress.
“It is a little hard because this is something new you have to adjust to,’’ said Sanchez, who sees progress after working with Swanson for a week. “I can tell you that now I feel much better than Day 1. It is a learning process and any time you try something new, you need to make that adjustment.’’
Unlike the past few years, the Yankees have brought several catchers with big league experience to camp, but Kyle Higashioka is the clear favorite to be Sanchez’s backup.
“It’s a deep catching corps we brought in this year, but we feel great about Higgy,’’ Aaron Boone said Saturday. “We feel he has been ready for this opportunity for a while. We are excited about who he is. He is out of options so that factors into things.’’
The Yankees believe in Higashioka, a darling of the organization’s analytical arm, so much they let reliable backup Austin Romine leave for the Tigers as a free agent.
Higashioka, 30 in April and a seventh-round pick of the Yankees in the 2008 draft, was described by Boone as an “elite catcher’’ but that didn’t stop the Yankees from inviting major league veterans Chris Ianneta, Erik Kratz and Josh Thole to camp.
“These guys provide better depth than we have had probably since I have been here,’’ said Boone, who is in his third year. “We are excited about what we brought in, but to start with we are very excited about Higgy and what he can be.’’
In 56 big league games the past three years Higashioka has hit .164 but gets high marks for his defensive ability.
The Yankees are sponsoring a charity 5K race Sunday morning that will start in front of the George Steinbrenner statue in front of Steinbrenner Field and end in the complex’s parking lot.