The Pittsburgh Pirates surprised everyone when they took Tony Sanchez with the fourth pick in the 2009 draft. Sanchez was the 32nd rated prospect according to Baseball America rankings, and the thought at the time was that the Pirates would be better served to select one of the top high school arms in the draft. They took Sanchez, he signed right away, and quickly started to silence his critics, going on to hit for a .316/.415/.581 line with seven homers in 155 at-bats in West Virginia.
Recently I conducted an e-mail interview with Tony to get some insight from him on the draft, draft critics, his weight loss story, and his progress in the minors so far:
Tim: A few days before the draft, you met with Neal Huntington and Greg Smith. At what point did you know the Pirates would take you with the fourth pick?
Tony: I didn’t know they were going to take me until about an hour before the draft. I knew they were considering me with that pick, and even that is a great honor. But it wasn’t until about an hour before the pick that they told us if Ackley and Strasburg were taken, I’d be the fourth pick.
Tim: What other teams expressed interest in taking you in the first round?
Tony: From what I was told I believe the Royals were interested in me with pick 12 and then I believe I had gained interest from the Rays, Blue Jays, and Mariners for their first round picks.
Tim: Based on the teams you talked to before the draft, do you think there was any chance of falling out of the first round if the Pirates passed on you at number four?
Tony: No one ever knows what’s gonna happen with the draft on draft day. So if the Pirates didn’t take me with pick four, who knows what would have happened, I could have gone pick five or I could have fallen out of the first round.
Tim: The Pirates received a lot of criticism for what was considered a reach in selecting you as a part of their innovative draft approach this year. Did that criticism have any impact on you, positively or negatively?
Tony: Of course it had some impact on me but I feel its just driving me to strive for higher things. Every baseball player is gonna have his critics, especially if its someone who’s flown under the radar his whole college career like I did. But thank god those gurus aren’t in the war rooms when draft day comes around because if your going to base your draft plans solely on what Baseball America has predicted for the first round, then a lot of great players may have been overlooked. Honestly, the criticism fuels the fire and has definitely had a positive impact on me, not that I’m going out every game and trying to impress anyone, but when I do make it to where the Pirates want me to be I’ll know who stood behind me and who thought me being the fourth pick was ludacris.
Tim: Your defense has been described as “average major league ready”. How would you rate your defensive skills?
Tony: I’d say my defense CAN be major league ready at times, and what I mean by that is that I’m realizing that after catching almost 100 games this year I’m gassed, and its showing. My arm isn’t as strong, swing isn’t as quick and my feet aren’t as quick as everything was in February when we started our college season. So something I’m gonna have to develop is endurance to be able to have that major league defense for 162 games and hopefully more. I know that with the more experience I get in the minors I’ll develop that endurance and I’ll be ready when the Pirates need me.
Tim: I’ve read that you’ve hit with wooden bats before. How was the adjustment going full time from metal to wooden bats?
Tony: I love woods bats, I’ve never had a problem swinging them and have always had some success with them. I’m looking foward to earning my base hits and not having the metal assist with some hits. Plus wood bats are a lot cooler cause they have your name on them. I really like that.
Tim: A lot of publicity was focused on you going on the Subway diet. Does Jared now have to worry a little about his job security as the Subway spokesperson? At what point does your agent make the call?
Tony: Haha no, Jared will always have job security with Subway. After all, he’s the one who gave me the idea to try it and thank God I did. But I’m not sure when they need to make the call, I’m sure when I make it to the majors we’ll try and get some type of deal with them, but right now I don’t think they have any interest in a minor leaguer’s weight loss story.
Tim: Through the diet and a lot of work in the gym, you were able to get in to shape which you describe as crucial to where you are right now. Describe the on-field difference before and after the diet/exercise changes.
Tony: Well before the change I was weighing about 248 lbs, with not much muscle and a lot of baby fat. But I held my own and was able to play as a freshman every game at BC. After my first summer in the Northwoods League I told myself that if I really wanted to go somewhere with baseball I’d have to be disciplined enough to make a change and that’s when it started. I began a pretty strict subway diet (I still laugh when I say that) and a tough workout regimen. Now that I’ve lost those 40 lbs and I’m actually stronger at 210 then I was at 250 its definitely shown. Mostly in my ability to catch everyday, and I know that I said earlier that I need to get my endurance up so that just means that I can never stop working and I’ll never stop.
Tim: How many hours did you spend in the gym each day?
Tony: I’d say I probably worked out about five times a week and was in there for about an hour and a half each time. But while I was in there I was locked in. No messing around, just getting after it and lifting real hard.
Tim: You didn’t seem to have a lot of trouble hitting in West Virginia. How much tougher was the pitching there versus the pitching you saw in college?
Tony: I’d say the pitching in Low A was just like the pitching I’d see during conference weekends. Which I probably why I had some success in West Virginia. Playing in the ACC for three years will definitely help in the department.
Tim: Have you had any issues hitting breaking balls in the pros so far?
Tony: Not really, the best way to hit a really good breaking ball is to hit the fastball the pitch before it. I’ve been doing that pretty good so far and plan to stick to it.
Tim: Behind the plate are you getting signs from the dugout, or are you calling the game yourself? At what point, or in what situations, do you get to call the game yourself? With a pitcher like Rudy Owens, who you’ve caught four times, are you able to call most of the game?
Tony: I call every pitch of every game by myself, the signs I get from the dugout are
pickoff signs for when there’s a runner on first. Maybe the coach will want a pickoff or a pitch out or a slide step. But other then that, I’m on my own and I’m learning. Quickly.
Tim: What’s the biggest thing you’ll be working on in the Florida Instructional League this year?
Tony: Absolutely everything. I’ll be working on my swing, my plate discipline, pitch recognition, footwork, receiving, blocking, pitch calling, throwing, lifting and eating Subway every chance I get.
When it came to the Tony Sanchez selection, a lot of people were upset over the selection. I can’t say I was fully on board, as you can see when I asked “Will the Pirates really take Tony Sanchez at #4“. However, let’s look at two important quotes from that article:
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.
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.
On the first comment, it really makes you think about the whole ranking process. It’s fun to look at the Baseball America rankings, but let’s put things in perspective. That’s the rankings of one group of scouts. Then we have the rankings of another group of scouts: the ones in the Pirates organization. So why do we automatically say the Baseball America rankings are right, and the Pirates rankings are wrong? I have two ideas.
First, we’ve been conditioned to be skeptical about the draft. Look at our draft history over the last 20+ years. That’s horrendous work in the first round. The last six years has been worse, as we’ve selected lower ranked players, rather than taking the top prospect on the board twice (Bryan Bullington over BJ Upton, Daniel Moskos over Matt Wieters). Even though this is a new management group, and even though they took Pedro Alvarez last year, there’s still going to be some doubts.
It’s kind of like when you’re feeling sick, you eat a french fry, then you throw up. You were sick before the french fry, and that’s not what made you sick, but you never trust french fries again due to the association.
Second, and this is the big thing, we were thinking entirely inside the box. The thought process was “you take the best talent available each round”. How many people were saying “what if they took Tony Sanchez, then poured that savings in to the rest of the draft on above slot deals”? Wait, I think I said that in the link above. Did I think it would happen the way it happened though, with so many pitching prospects? No way.
I said many times that this draft will be the one that makes or breaks Huntington. So far it’s looking good. We haven’t seen much from the high school pitchers, but Tony Sanchez looks great. In 178 at-bats in his pro career he has a .309/.408/.556 line with seven homers. His defense also looks solid, although he will need to work on the endurance, as I noticed a few mistakes in Lynchburg that he probably wouldn’t make if he was fresh (like a few throws to second).
Looking back, I love what the Pirates did in the draft this year. Tony Sanchez is a very talented catcher with comparisons to Yadier Molina (although last time I mentioned my feelings on Molina, it was printed on ESPN’s web site and Cardinals fans went nuts…so let’s just say I hate him, but I respect him). I also don’t think Sanchez makes it back to the Pirates with the 49th overall pick.
As for the high school arms, rather than paying for one of the top ranked arms, the Pirates spent the same amount on several highly touted arms in the later rounds. I’m fine with that, because high school arms are a big gamble to begin with. Then there’s Aaron Crow, who a lot of people wanted (myself included), but who hasn’t even signed yet. Next year we’ll have a solid all around catching prospect with half a season under his belt, likely starting off at High A, while the Royals probably won’t have Crow signed until close to the draft.
If this draft really does become the make or break for Huntington, then the early return suggests he’s going to make it. I don’t know how the high school arms are going to end up in their first full season next year, but from what I’ve seen from Sanchez, it looks like the Pirates made an excellent pick in the first round this year.
Like this interview? I’ll have a new interview with a Pittsburgh Pirates prospect each day this week. Check back tomorrow for my interview with Rudy Owens.