First Pitch: Taking the Jordy Mercer Approach With Tony Sanchez

Tony Sanchez has a .918 OPS in Indianapolis.

Tony Sanchez has a .918 OPS in Indianapolis.

The one thing we can take away from the Jordy Mercer situation is that the Pirates plan to have him as the primary shortstop in 2014, or at least the top candidate for the job. We hope that’s the situation. Otherwise it really makes no sense to get Mercer adjusted to the majors in the short-term as a utility player. But I think that the fact that Mercer was used as a starter when Neil Walker was down speaks well to how the organization views him. Prior to that, I figured that John McDonald would be seeing starts at shortstop if Clint Barmes went down, with Mercer on the bench. Now I’d be shocked if Mercer wasn’t playing every day in that scenario.

Some events over the last few days have me wondering if the Pirates should take the same approach with another position. Russell Martin has been a strong player to have in the lineup when healthy. The problem is that he’s missed a few games this year, leading to Michael McKenry starting a few games in the last week. On Monday, McKenry was 0-for-6 in caught stealing attempts, giving us a reminder of his horrible numbers from the 2012 season. You would think that with McKenry being the backup in the majors, he’d be first in line to start if Martin ever went on the disabled list.

The other thing that has been happening lately is Tony Sanchez has been hitting, and hitting for power. After going 3-for-4 with a double and a homer tonight, Sanchez is hitting for a .294/.400/.518 line in 85 at-bats. That’s a small sample size, but it’s very positive that Sanchez is not only hitting for average, but hitting for power. He has a .224 ISO so far this year, and had a .175 ISO in 206 at-bats with Indianapolis last year. The average returned last season, with a .277 average in 141 at-bats in Double-A, which was up from a .241 average in 2011. The problem was that Sanchez wasn’t hitting for power when he was hitting for average, and he wasn’t hitting for average when he was hitting for power.

This year he’s hitting for power and average so far, which is a great sign. He already has strong defense, with a great arm, plus pitch blocking skills, and he does great work handling a pitching staff. Sanchez would be an upgrade over Michael McKenry on defense. He may not have an immediate impact on offense, but he’s certainly earned a shot in the majors with his recent hitting.

Since Martin was signed for two years, the Pirates don’t need Sanchez as a starter until the 2015 season. However, they could use him as a starter if Martin ever goes down for an extended period, which seems like it could be possible when you consider that he’s dealt with two minor injuries already this year (shoulder and neck). Sanchez would probably be a better all around option over McKenry. That would give the Pirates at least two positions where their Triple-A starters are better than the backups on the bench. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as the Pirates start those Triple-A guys in the majors when the major league starters go down.

Links and Notes

**The 2013 Prospect Guide and the 2013 Annual are both available on the products page of the site. If you order them together, you’ll save $5.

**Check out the new episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 3: What To Do With Alvarez, Gomez, and Mercer; Casey Sadler Interview.

**Pirates Relief Pitching Prospects Drawing Interest?

**Pirates Pregame: Martin Back in the Lineup.

**Horseshoe Is On the Other Foot as Pirates Walk Off on Brewers.

**Prospect Watch: Tony Sanchez Hitting For Power; Alen Hanson Hits First Homer.

**Minor League Schedule: 5/15/13.

Tim Williams

Author: 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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  • joe g.

    It’s a good point. Hopefully our manager and GM are giving this strong consideration, because The Fort does Not have a major league arm. There are high schoolers making better throws.

    I wonder what effect Sanchez’s broken jaw had on setting his hitting back.

  • Cocktailsfor2

    D’ya know what TSanch’s CS rate is, and how many PB?

  • http://www.facebook.com/lee.young.161 Lee Young

    Tim…good points…didn’t realize Tony was swinging the bat that well.

    .

  • https://profiles.google.com/108353580977908661033 eric gaumann

    I see Sanchez has a pretty large leftie/rightie split. Small sample size, sure, but still.

  • leadoff

    The Pirates view on players is often different from the fans and media, if they think the player is a utility player, he won’t play very much when he gets to the majors, if they think they are everyday players, they might play them.
    But i agree with Tim, if Sanchez comes up it has to be to play ahead of McHenry. McHenry is clearly never going to be the number one catcher in Pittsburgh, Heck if Sanchez was not around, I would move Paulino up to the starting catcher spot ahead of McHenry. I know that Paulino would not help with the bat, but backup catchers are more for defense than they are for offense.

    Sanchez caught stealing rate belies how well he gets the ball to 2nd base and his career stat is totally useless since the Pirate pitchers were not even trying to hold runners in the past and Sanchez was not built up physically to anywhere near where he is now.
    It would appear that the Pirates are starting to stack up major league talent in the minors, we should start to see some trades at the midway point of the year IMO. When you have talent to trade it makes it a lot easier to get something good in return.

    • emjayinTN

      If Gerrit Cole comes up in June, that means a Rotation of Burnett, Rodriguez, Cole, Liriano, and Locke, who continues to impress. That still leaves Jennmar Gomez and Justin Wilson as “shared starters”. Where does that leave guys like McDonald, Karstens and Morton? I agree that McKenry has struggled, but evaluating a Catcher throwing out runners with AJ Burnett on the mound? The Fort may be on the go list also. McDonald goes, and when he does, Jordy Mercer comes back, Barmes is an excellent defensive SS and players benefit from that type of interaction. And, yes, Tony Sanchez has matured and is now ready to be in the majors.

      • leadoff

        In my case, McHenry was not judged on the A.J-McHenry debacle. I watched McHenry practice, I watched him in ST and never saw him throw well. Martin has caught A.J. also and the traveling circus did not happen, yes someone stole a base on them, but there was no track meet.
        I am convinced if you put a base on the pitchers mound, McHenry would not be anywhere near it if someone was running toward it.
        Don’t forget, we had a whole year of McHenry last year.

        As far as Cole is concerned it is highly unlikely that he will be in the majors this year, just no room for him and he is not pitching lights out anyway, although he probably could be in the majors with several other teams. The Pirates have no reason to bring him up as long as the job is getting done, better to let him hone his skills in minors, he is only what 23.

        • emjayinTN

          I like the part about putting the base on the mound. So you think the throw to CF and the high throw to 3B could have been better? So do I. I think the Pirates are almost required to give Cole a shot in 2013. Being the No. 1 overall comes with a lot of expectation, and, although it is a decision with delicate balance, Cole could benefit from pitching with guys like Burnett and Rodriguez. I do not see any downside.