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Yolmer Sánchez Is Putting It All Together

Once a good-fielding, good clubhouse guy, the 25-year-old is improving at the plate, making him the White Sox’s most valuable player so far this year.

Yolmer Sánchez, being Yolmer Sánchez   Photo: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune

It was late in the evening of May 3, and Yolmer Sánchez was planning. White Sox outfielder Trayce Thompson had just scalded a firecracker into the left field bleachers at the team’s South Side domicile, a walk-off home run that earned the squad a win over the Twins. Sánchez had a good feeling going into the inning, he said, and had spent it gearing up for a celebration. While Thompson rounded the bases, Sánchez made sure he made it to the front of the mob of players readying to shower the hero in a customary Gatorade bath.

Except then Sánchez ad-libbed, dumping his bucket on himself.

“At first I kind of saw him do it, and I was like ‘did he really just do that?’” Thompson recalled. “And then I saw a video. I was like, ‘he would do that.’”

Of course. He would do that. Because Sánchez, who’s currently playing a sharp third base in the field and leading the league in triples in the batter’s box, isn’t just a blossoming ballplayer. The genial 25-year-old also loves to put on a good show. And as the youthful Sox grind through their rebuild to the tune of a moribund record, Sánchez might just be what the rest of his team and its fanbase need most.

“He’s a guy that comes every single day, plays hard, gives you everything he has, and also has that type of energy inside the clubhouse,” manager Rick Renteria said of Sánchez before the team played Detroit on Sunday. “He gets along with everybody. I think everybody enjoys how he loosens things up.”

The loosening comes in many forms. The Venezuelan native has been sighted wearing catcher’s gear pilfered from teammate Alfredo González. (He’s never actually played the position.) He loves to bomb his teammates’ interviews. He celebrates hits with a zany Mickey Mouse ears celebration. He brought the self-provided Gatorade dunk back following a walk-off win over Baltimore later in May and has promised there are more on the way.

Then there’s also Sánchez’s habit of belting Bruno Mars tunes.

“It is good. I mean it’s not really good,” said slugger Matt Davidson of the Mars impression. “It’s funny.” The team will sometimes try to get Sánchez to sing into the microphone on the bus, Thompson revealed. Sánchez himself dismisses the plaudits his Mars impression receives. “No, no, no. I just like to dance,” Sánchez offered as a rebuttal. “They say that I sing good, but I don’t know.”

A claim Sánchez won’t deny, also provided by Thompson: That the spark plug infielder is a nonstop noise machine. Sánchez freely admits that he’s prone to screaming and is “a little loud.”

“I just try to be me,” Sánchez said. “I don’t like to come to the field and just sit at my locker and do nothing. It’s not me.”

An unmistakably youthful energy radiates from Sánchez, who said he started playing baseball when he was three and a half. He now has a three-year-old son, Noah, who loves baseball, too. “He just wants to play baseball all day,” Yolmer said of his son just moments after waxing poetic about childhood. “I love kids…. They don’t have to worry about nothing. They just have to just play, be a kid.”

Sánchez doesn’t seem too worried about much, either. He’s swinging a solid bat this year, flashing mean leather, and leading the Sox in WAR (wins above replacement). His traditional numbers aren’t spectacular; he had a .264 batting average and four homers as of Tuesday. But he fills loads of columns on the statsheet and menaces opponents on the basepaths. Sánchez also hits from both sides of the plate. (He said he started switch hitting at 15 when a trainer told him he’d get more opportunity to sign if he did. “Because I was a little guy,” said Sánchez, listed at a charitable 5-foot-11.) He’s coming into his own. But getting to this point didn’t happen over night.

The Sox signed the infielder in 2009, and they later called him up to the bigs on July 13, 2014, a date he has stenciled in ink on his right bicep. At the time, he went by Carlos Sánchez, only altering his official name in 2017 to correspond with his given first name—a reinstitution he said pleased his mother. “They never asked me, hey, Yolmer or Carlos,” said the infielder, whose full given name is Yolmer Carlos Javier Sánchez Yanez. After a quiet stint in 2014, Carlos Sánchez scuffled at the plate as a full-time second baseman in 2015. He batted just .224. The next year didn’t go much better, and his average slid to .208 as he split his time in the minors.

“He struggled quite a bit, and that was hard on him,” said Todd Steverson, the team’s hitting coach since 2013. But Steverson added that he always felt Sánchez could hit. The infielder just needed to get used to the mental approach required in a big league batter’s box. “Him struggling through that time and really figuring out who he was and who he wanted to be as a player was beneficial,” Steverson said. “He did a good job of taking the bull by the horns.”

Things started looking up in 2017, the same year Sánchez became the first Yolmer in baseball. Sánchez displayed more patience at the plate. He walked more, and his batting average ascended. He finished the season with a .267 average and a dozen dingers. While Steverson would still like to see more bases on balls, he said he now sees a “dangerous” hitter who “can slash the ball to all fields.”

No less than Frank Thomas has taken notice. The Hall of Famer said Sánchez has become one of his favorite Sox to watch over the past two seasons. “I remember when he came a few years ago, he was all glove, no bat. He could catch everything, and he couldn’t hit at all,” the Big Hurt said over the weekend. “Now he’s learned to hit, and you can tell he’s having an effect in that clubhouse. The guys love him. He’s infectious, and he’s probably that super-utility guy here in the near future when this thing really takes off.”

A key phrase hangs there. When this thing really takes off. For all the fun times and all the Yolmer moments, the Sox are in tear-it-down mode. As the Cubs suck up nearly every last breath of oxygen in media coverage, the Sox toil in relative obscurity. Consider this: Sánchez, who has an active Twitter presence, has 13.1 thousand followers on the social media site. Albert Almora Jr., the 24-year-old Cubs outfielder, boasts an almost identical WAR to Sánchez and over 100,000 more Twitter followers. Sure, Almora’s a highly regarded prospect, but the gap remains telling.

The Sox want little for talented young players, so a sense of optimism lingers. But their season also felt over before it even began, and the runts of the Chicago sports scene have not sniffed the playoffs since Barack Obama was running for president.

None of this is to say Sánchez is bellyaching about the lack of love for his team. On the contrary, he has nothing but positive words for his time in Chicago. He said he loves the city, its food scene, and coming to the ballpark each day. “I’ve been working hard my whole life to get to this point,” Sánchez said, “to get in [the] big league, to have a beautiful wife, a beautiful son, a beautiful family. So it’s a lot of things to be thankful.”

But if the Sox can indeed start to put it together—if the rebuild turns the corner, the youth movement blossoms, the Sox begin to steal some of the Cubs’ spotlight—the rest of Chicago might grow better acquainted with Yolmer, the irreverent character who blows life into Guaranteed Rate Field.

In the meantime, Sánchez keeps spirits high for a team with a long way to go in a slog of a season. “He’s one-of-a-kind,” said infielder Tim Anderson, another promising young player. “It’s fun being around him.”

As Thompson put it, “every team needs a guy like that—that people can kind of look for for energy.” Sánchez brings that energy.

And maybe, as the Sox rebuild continues, he can keep fans dreaming of Gatorade showers to come. On much grander stages. When this thing really takes off.

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