Will the Pirates really take Tony Sanchez at #4?

When the Tony Sanchez talk originally came out I didn’t buy in to it. That’s mostly because it was from one source: Keith Law. Not that I have anything against Law, but with every other site projecting picks like Aaron Crow, it seemed ridiculous to assume that Law was the one guy with inside knowledge of what the Pirates would do.

The last few days we’ve been hearing more and more about Tony Sanchez. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com, who had Aaron Crow going to the Pirates, now is on the Tony Sanchez bandwagon in his final mock draft. Jim Callis of Baseball America still has Aaron Crow going to the Pirates in his final mock draft, but admits the pick could go any direction.

Then there’s all of the contact the Pirates have made with Sanchez. Let’s start with the article by Chuck Finder in the PPG today. The article details Tony Sanchez, including some information that shows heavy interest in the Boston College catcher from the Pirates. This is mainly shown when it is mentioned that Neal Huntington and scouting director Greg Smith met with Sanchez for dinner in Boston.

The big appeal over Sanchez seems to be that he will sign quickly, and he will be cheap. I’m not saying he won’t be a good player, but if the Pirates select him at number four, it will be for those reasons.

If the Pirates do take Sanchez, we will hear immediate comparisons to Matt Wieters/Daniel Moskos. Before that starts, I want to point out that there are absolutely no comparisons, unless the Pirates see Dustin Ackley fall to them, and take Sanchez over Ackley. Due to the talent at the top of the draft being so thin this year, the widely held belief is that the first 20-30 players are interchangeable as far as talent level goes.

In their final rankings, Baseball America ranks Sanchez #32 in the draft, borderline between the end of the first round and the beginning of the sandwich round. His scouting reports suggest that Sanchez could be a better version of Jason Jaramillo, with above-average major league defense, a solid arm, and decent power. Sanchez was considered better than Matt Wieters and Buster Posey by his coach at Boston College, but you have to consider the source there. I’m only including this information to say that I don’t think Sanchez is better than those two, and I think those comments are just a case of a coach talking up his player.

The big question is: how horrible would it be if the Pirates did take Sanchez at #4? That’s a complicated question, with many aspects, so I’ll go over it in detail.

Sanchez would be inexcusable if Ackley was still on the board. I also feel that Jacob Turner and Aaron Crow are worthy of the number four pick, as outlined in my Draft Preview. I personally feel that passing up on Crow would be a big mistake, but not anywhere near the Wieters/Moskos mistake of 2007.

The X-factor would be how the Pirates spend their money in the draft. I believe the reason for taking Sanchez would be over the fact that he will sign quickly, and he will sign for a low cost. If the Pirates pour their savings in to the rest of the draft, and take a similar approach to last year (where they signed players like Robbie Grossman, Quinton Miller, and Wes Freeman to deals well above slot), then the savings might not be that bad, especially when there isn’t really a talent that stands out for the number four pick.

On the other side of that coin, the Pirates can guarantee themselves a top prospect, and still go after a catcher in the second round. Baseball America ranks nine catchers as sandwich round or second round talent. I don’t believe the drop off from Sanchez to a guy like Tommy Joseph is as big as the drop off from a talent like Aaron Crow to Tony Sanchez.

That brings up an important issue though. My only knowledge of these players is through the information given by sites such as Baseball America, MLB.com, and ESPN. I follow the stats, and watch the occasional college game (mostly UNC to watch Ackley), but that’s the extent of my knowledge here. I’d say the same scenario exists for 99% of Pirates fans who would criticize Huntington for taking Sanchez #4.

As someone who used to create fantasy baseball rankings for a living, I can say that when it comes to ranking a player, value is all in the eye of the beholder. Heading in to this season I had elevated three guys one to two rounds above where they were normally drafted in fantasy drafts. Those guys were Chad Billingsley, Zack Greinke, and Matt Cain. It may have been considered a bit of a reach at the time, but my scouting and analysis on those players paid off, and looking back now, I’m sure a lot of people would have taken Greinke much higher than the 8th-10th rounds (or 11th-13th rounds in drafts I wasn’t a part of) based on the success he’s shown so far.

We base our opinion on the MLB draft’s value on the rankings of the guys at Baseball America and ESPN. However, the only rankings that are important to the Pirates are their own rankings, and I don’t believe their top 200 looks anything close to the Baseball America top 200. If it was as easy as downloading the Baseball America rankings and making your picks off that information, any one of us could be the GM of the Pirates.

Now I’m not saying Neal Huntington would be right in selecting Tony Sanchez. I’m also not saying he would be wrong. If he believes that Sanchez is the right pick at #4, and is more valuable than a late first round ranking, then I say go for it.

Looking back at the 2003 draft, Chad Billingsley was selected 24th overall by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was ranked 54th by Baseball America. The top pitcher taken in the draft was Kyle Sleeth, taken third by Detroit, and ranked sixth by BA. At the time if Detroit would have taken Billingsley it would have been considered a horrible pick, and a huge reach. Looking back now, it would have been an amazing pick.

Hindsight is 20/20, but that goes to show how important the pre-draft rankings really are: they’re a good guide, but in the end it’s up to the GM of the team to evaluate talent. Neal Huntington was hired to decide who is the best pick available, not to follow other people’s rankings. This draft will be the first test of his evaluation skills.

I don’t know if Neal will take Sanchez or not. As the draft gets closer it seems like an increasing possibility. While I personally would prefer someone like Jacob Turner or Aaron Crow at #4, I’d support the decision to draft Sanchez. In six years we’re either going to look back and say “what a horrible decision that was” or we’re going to say “wow, Neal did a great job evaluating Sanchez”.

Basically in this draft we’re giving Neal a lot of rope. He’s either going to use that rope to hang himself if his decisions turn out to be a bust, or if his decisions turn out to be genious he will use the rope to…well, I’m not really sure what you do with rope. Maybe make a hammock chair to kick back and relax in while the Pirates are winning in a few years with their new starting catcher: Tony Sanchez.

Join us in the live blog of tonight’s draft, where you can voice your opinion on who the Pirates pick with not only the fourth selection, but the other selections in day one.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with AccuScore.com, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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