Tony Sanchez has been impressive this Spring. It’s not so much the hitting, which continued tonight with a two-run homer. The hitting has been there the last few years, showing some positive signs, and some flashes of opposite field power like he displayed against the Tigers.
The impressive thing has been his defense, and specifically his throwing. Pete Ellis wrote a great article over the weekend, detailing how Sanchez worked this off-season to fix those issues. As I said, the offense picked up the last few years. He has always excelled at blocking pitches, and his pitch framing is rated well. The big issue has been his throwing problems, which have been a huge liability in recent years, even on simple throws back to the pitcher or to third base after a strikeout.
I’ve reviewed all of the video in the past of Sanchez and his throwing issues. I’ve seen the problems in person. And I’ve been watching him this Spring. What I’ve seen is a much improved player in that area, and it doesn’t look like a small sample size issue. Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle has noticed Sanchez as well.
“Tony has worked hard,” Hurdle said after tonight’s game. “He’s dealt with some adversity. He’s had to push through some things. He’s battled. I do think there’s a point in time where a player says ‘I’ve got to get after it.’ He’s been the first one to tell you, he’s kind of created an opportunity for others at times.”
A.J. Burnett also had praise for Sanchez, saying that he loved him behind the plate.
“The way he blocks balls is a ton better,” Burnett said of the difference in Sanchez’s game since 2013. “He was always pretty good at it. I think the way he goes about it now, he’s really starting to pay attention to his pitchers…he blocked some good hooks today in good situations.”
The problem is that Sanchez has created a situation where he’s stuck in limbo. When he was drafted in 2009, he was seen as the catcher of the future, possibly by 2013. That didn’t happen, and the Pirates signed Russell Martin. Sanchez wasn’t ready again this off-season, so they went out and added Francisco Cervelli, while adding Chris Stewart as a backup in 2013.
Meanwhile, on the other side of things, the struggles from Sanchez have opened the door for another catching prospect to step up. Elias Diaz did that in a big way last year, adding some strong hitting to what was already a strong defensive package behind the plate. Diaz is now the top catching prospect in the upper levels, passing Sanchez. The Pirates gave him the priority for playing time behind the plate last year, moving Sanchez to first base. But Sanchez didn’t give up, and the early signs are that he made the necessary improvements.
Sanchez is in a situation where he needs an injury in the majors to get a shot to prove himself as a backup. He has also fallen behind Diaz, which means he won’t get the bulk of the workload in Indianapolis. He basically needs an early season injury in the majors to have a shot at working his way back into the picture.
Chris Stewart is currently dealing with a hamstring issue, and Hurdle said tonight that it hasn’t improved. That could be the key for Sanchez to open the season in Pittsburgh, and possibly try to win a long-term job. His offense hasn’t been outstanding in his limited time in the majors, but his .680 OPS beats the career .595 mark from Stewart. If the new defensive improvements stick around, then Sanchez would make a good MLB backup, with the chance to push for more.
This all assumes that Stewart will miss the start of the season, and there has been no indication of that. That said, eventually there will be an injury that will bring Sanchez up to the majors this year. He’s going to need to make the most of that time when it comes, especially with Diaz on the verge of making the jump to the big leagues.
**We have less than 100 paperback books of the 2015 Prospect Guide remaining from the final shipment. I don’t anticipate ordering another shipment this year. That means once the current batch is gone, the paperback version will be sold out. You can order your copy of the book on the products page of the site.
**Luis Heredia Hasn’t Pitched In Over Two Weeks While The Pirates Get Him In Better Shape. Not the best update from minor league camp. Right now I don’t expect Heredia to be ready for the start of full-season ball.
**JaCoby Jones Did Fine In The Move To Shortstop, But Needs To Cut Down On Strikeouts. I talked with Jones and Larry Broadway about the move to short and his strikeout issues.
**The Mental Adjustment That Led To Cody Dickson’s Dominant 2014 Second Half. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of Cody Dickson in Bradenton this year.