The last time Tony Sanchez was in the Majors, he didn’t get much of a chance to prove what he is capable of as a potential starting catcher. Sanchez only had 18 at-bats over six games in the first few weeks of the season, serving as the backup to Russell Martin. The sample sizes were limited, and thus, brought big reactions to individual plays.
When Sanchez strung together a few game winning hits the first week of the season, I received a lot of comments saying that he shouldn’t be sent back down once Chris Stewart returned from the DL. When Sanchez made a few poor, and costly, throws a week later, I was receiving comments that Sanchez shouldn’t be the starting catcher in 2015.
In either case, a few plays were being highlighted by the limited playing time from Sanchez. Today, Russell Martin went on the 15-day DL, and Sanchez was recalled in a series of roster moves. That means that, for at least the next 15 days, Sanchez will get the workload of a starting catcher. This isn’t a huge sample size, but it will give a better look at what Sanchez could be capable of as a potential starter.
The issue for the Pirates going forward is that Russell Martin is a free agent at the end of the 2014 season, and is likely to command a huge contract after establishing a lot of value with his defense since signing with the Pirates. It’s unlikely that the Pirates will be able to bring him back, and they might not need to bring him back if Sanchez can establish himself as a starting option.
Sanchez has a lot of the same skills as Martin. He’s strong defensively, with good receiving and pitch framing skills, good blocking skills, and a good ability to handle a pitching staff. Offensively, Sanchez doesn’t hit for average, but does have some pop in his bat, mostly in the form of opposite field power for extra base hits. The main downside to his game is that Sanchez can have throwing problems from time to time, which we saw a few weeks ago.
Those throwing problems are also why Sanchez was held down in Triple-A last summer when Michael McKenry was struggling in the majors. He will occasionally get the yips, to the point where even a routine throw down to first base, or a throw to third after a strikeout, can go wild.
This is a pretty glaring problem, as it gives away free bases, or turns easy outs into extra bases. It’s also a problem that could potentially prevent Sanchez from being a starting catcher in the majors. However, that would largely depend on the entire body of work from Sanchez as a starter. If he can limit those throwing issues, then I think he’s got the overall skills to provide value as a starting catcher, in the form of a lite version of Russell Martin.
We haven’t really seen Sanchez get this kind of opportunity in the majors, even in his time in the big leagues last year. The next few weeks with Martin on the DL will give us the first real look at Sanchez, and what he is capable of as a starting catcher. In another way, the next few weeks could be seen as a tryout for the 2015 starting job.
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