TAMPA — One of Aaron Boone’s primary goals when he got the Yankees manager job late in 2017 was to forge a relationship with Gary Sanchez after the catcher struggled behind the plate in Joe Girardi’s final year in the dugout.
Sanchez’s results in Boone’s first season were hardly encouraging, as Sanchez finished with an MLB-worst 18 passed balls, despite playing just 89 games. And Sanchez didn’t make up for those defensive lapses with his bat, as his production plummeted with an OPS of just .697, down from .876 in 2017.
Boone visited Sanchez and his wife in the Dominican Republic during the offseason after Sanchez underwent debridement surgery on his left (non-throwing) shoulder and remains convinced the 26-year-old is poised to bounce back.
“The conversations I had with him, I saw a young player another year along and mature and, frankly, very hungry to show how good a player he is,’’ Boone said.
Sanchez told The Post last week he’d be ready to go to begin spring training, and Boone agreed.
“He’s doing really well,’’ Boone said during his spring-training opening press conference Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field. “His body is in really good shape. I think he’s gonna have a really good year for us on both sides of the ball.”
His skills weren’t on display a year ago, although he showed flashes, including a two-homer game in Game 2 of the ALDS, the Yankees’ only victory over the Red Sox.
And Boone acknowledged how vital it is for the Yankees that Sanchez lives up to his potential.
“I’m excited about his frame of mind right now and I’m expecting him- and we’re counting on him to be a great player for us,’’ Boone said.
Asked about Sanchez’s “frame of mind,’’ Boone believes the hardships Sanchez faced during his disastrous 2018 will pay dividends this season.
“I just think he’s a year more mature,’’ Boone said. “Going through some of the things he went through last year … bumps in the road, struggles — especially as a young player — can be great things in the grand scheme of things for a career. Especially when you’re a talented guy like Gary, there’s no question the things he went through physically I think will benefit him going forward.”
They’d better, because the Yankees can ill afford another dismal season from Sanchez, who emerged as one of the top offensive catchers in the game when he was called up for good in 2016 and then was an All-Star the following season.
“To see him talk passionately about things that matter to him, I feel there’s growth there and maturity there,’’ Boone said. “There’s a real hunger to go out and show how good a player he is.”