TONY SANCHEZ, CATCHER
|Born: May 20, 1988
Height: 6′ 0″
Drafted: 1st Round, 4th Overall, 2009
How Acquired: Draft
College: Boston College
Agent: Mike Zimmerman
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Pirates created some controversy by selecting Sanchez with the fourth pick in the 2009 draft. Baseball America, as well as most other observers, regarded Sanchez as roughly a supplemental first round talent, but once Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley were off the board, the Pirates did not believe the other most highly rated prospects were worth the money it would take to sign them. The team may also have been influenced by the fact that all of the remaining top candidates were pitchers. They could therefore have ended up spending $5-6M on a player who lacked a high ceiling and faced the astronomically high failure rate that’s historically plagued pitchers taken in the first few slots in the draft. They had a pre-draft deal worked out with Sanchez and he signed three days after being selected for $2.5M, which was slightly above slot money (although slot recommendations for the first 5-10 rounds have become meaningless in recent years, at least prior to the draft changes that took effect in 2012).
Sanchez didn’t emerge as a top draft prospect until his junior year. He was overweight when he got to Boston College, which accounted for the lack of interest in him as a high school prospect. He eventually got his weight down, however, and had a breakout junior season. He was widely considered to be good defensively, with a slightly above average arm. He has good agility behind the plate and gets out to block pitches very well. He has, however, had severe throwing problems as a pro. Sanchez’ bat raised doubts. He supposedly struggled badly with breaking balls in college, although he tried to lay off pitches out of the strike zone. He does not run well.
The Pirates had the rare luxury of getting Sanchez significant amount of playing time right after he signed. He went to State College for short stint, then spent about six weeks with West Virginia. His hitting there has to be taken with the caveat that Sanchez was a top player from a Division I school playing at the lowest full season level. Still, he hit very well and did not show the supposedly major problems with offspeed stuff. His defensive play impressed Pirates and other teams’ scouts, despite a very high error total of nine in just 36 games behind the plate. He threw out 30% of base stealers. The Pirates promoted Sanchez to Lynchburg at end of the year to appear in playoffs.
Sanchez opened the season with the new high A affiliate in Bradenton, with the hope of earning an early promotion. He got off to a fast start, but unfortunately his season ended in mid-June when he was hit in the face by a pitch and suffered a fractured jaw. Pre-injury, his hitting continued to defy draft-time predictions that he could end up as no more than a backup catcher. He did cool off after a blistering April, as his monthly OPS went from 1.082 to .777 and .746. His power especially dropped off after the first month. Sanchez’ numbers may have been inflated a little by McKechnie Field, which seemed to play as a huge hitter’s park in early season. He had an OPS of 1.070 at home and .660 on road, but the sample size was small and the park factors for McKechnie show that it only significantly inflates left-handed HR power. Sanchez continued to draw good reviews for his defense, except for his throwing. Base stealers ran wild on him, succeeding on 52 of 61 tries over 40 games. His throwing issues appeared to result from a sore shoulder that limited him to DH duties at times. It’s possible the shoulder also contributed to the power drought. Sanchez got raves for blocking pitches and calling games. His error total, eight in 40 games was high again. The Pirates sent him to the Arizona Fall League to make up for some of the lost time.
Sanchez spent the season at Altoona and it was a disaster. He started off hitting for a decent average and showing good plate discipline, but the power was there. He had only one extra base hit in April. He seemed to be coming around in May, hitting 280/365/413, but he collapsed in June and July, with OPS figures of .539 and .619, respectively. After striking out once every 7.7 ABs through May, he fanned once every 4.6 the rest of the way. He did continue to post a good walk rate. In June, he again went an entire month with only one extra base hit. There were defensive issues, too, as Sanchez threw out only 22% of opposing base stealers and committed 18 errors. (Some of this may have been the pitching staff, as the team’s three other catchers threw out only 14%.) He continued to show good receiving skills and had only four passed balls.
Not surprisingly, the Pirates sent Sanchez back to Altoona. He hit for a decent average and showed good strike zone judgment, but didn’t hit a single HR. He did have a good doubles total, so it’s not as though he wasn’t driving the ball at all. The Pirates promoted him to Indianapolis in June and he got off to a rough start, posting a .448 OPS in 17 June games. He recovered well, though, with an OPS of .859 in July and .802 in August. His walk and K numbers also improved dramatically, from 2/18 BB/K in June to 21/28 afterward. Most importantly, he suddenly started hitting for power. The low overall average in AAA may have resulted from a low batting average on balls in play of .260. (On the other hand, the better average in AA probably resulted from a BABIP of .361.) Sanchez had a huge platoon split in AAA, posting an OPS of 1.003 against LHPs and .612 against RHPs. He hit RHPs a little better in AA, so the split may have been a fluke. His throwing improved, as he threw out 31%–far better than the team’s other catchers–in AAA and 27% in AA. Sanchez missed the AAA playoffs when he broke a bone by fouling a ball off his foot. He would not have been called up in September in any event, as the Pirates planned to call up Eric Fryer to serve as a seldom-used backup.
Sanchez was eligible for the Rule 5 draft, so the Pirates added him to the 40-man roster in the off-season. He opened the season back in AAA and suddenly started hitting like he had in the low minors. The primary difference was the added power, at least some of which resulted from him developing, or realizing he had, very good power to right-center. His plate discipline remained solid and he hammered LHPs for a 311/367/567 line. He hit 259/338/437 against RHPs. Despite Mike McKenry struggling badly, the Pirates seemed to be reluctant to call Sanchez up due to supposed issues with his throwing. Supposedly, he was having trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher, although the proof of this was always a bit lacking. He threw out 24% of base stealers, which isn’t great but was much better than Indianapolis’ other catchers. His receiving skills continue to be well regarded and he remains prone to errors.
Sanchez made a two-game major league debut in late June, when Russell Martin was unavailable briefly. At the end of July he returned for good (except for a brief stint at Altoona during some roster maneuvers) when McKenry suffered a knee injury. With Martin seemingly wearing down late in the season, Sanchez got a little more playing time than he might have earlier in the year, although he had to share backup duties with John Buck in September. He held his own at the plate and played well defensively, looking considerably better as a receiver than Buck. He threw out one of six base stealers, which considering that he started twelve games shows that teams at least weren’t running wild on him.
The Pirates’ acquisition of Chris Stewart left Sanchez blocked at the major league level. Sanchez did, however, open the season in the majors when Stewart had minor knee surgery. Sanchez was optioned to AAA in mid-April, but returned a week later when Russell Martin went out with a hamstring injury. That kept Sanchez in the majors until three weeks into May. He spent the rest of the season in AAA until a September callup, after which he saw only five games and four plate appearances. Sanchez hit passably in the majors, although his walk and K rates were frightful. He struggled once he went back to Indianapolis, especially in a miserable June in which he hit 145/231/319. He bounced back afterward, with a .923 OPS in July and .732 in August, finishing with decent numbers. For some reason, he struggled with left-handed pitchers, posting just a .579 OPS against them.
The more important issue with Sanchez, though, was his defense. The Pirates still regard him as a good receiver, but his throwing has become an increasingly large issue. At Indianapolis, he threw out only 13% of base stealers, compared to 38% by the team’s other primary catcher, Nevin Ashley. In the majors, he threw out only 14%, compared to 23% by Stewart and 39% by Martin. Sanchez also continued to have trouble with errors, committing the same number as Martin in roughly one-sixth as many innings caught. At Indianapolis, he committed nine of the team’s 11 errors at catcher and seven of its nine passed balls in a little under half the games. After the Pirates moved Elias Diaz up near the end of the season, Sanchez played two games at first, which may increase his versatility but also implies that Diaz may have passed him up on the depth chart.
Sanchez seemingly fell behind Diaz on the depth chart due to his defensive struggles, a situation that wasn’t helped when his winter league team sent him home as a result of poor play. He appeared destined to play mostly first at Indianapolis, but he showed significant improvement defensively during spring training, drawing praise from numerous higher-ups with the team. He also had a big spring at the plate. His timing was good for a change, as a hamstring injury kept Stewart out at the beginning of the season, leaving Sanchez to open with the Pirates as the backup catcher. Once Stewart was available, Sanchez went to Indianapolis to share the catching position with Diaz. It was downhill from there, as Sanchez struggled at the plate and in the field. He threw out only 13% of base stealers and committed nine errors in just 70 games behind the plate. At the plate, he was actually very solid most of the year, posting an OPS between .737 and .798 in every month but June and September. In June, however, he posted a miserable 091/254/145 line that weighed down his season’s numbers. The Pirates called up Diaz and not Sanchez in September.
Sanchez is now out of options and has fallen behind Diaz on the depth chart. Assuming both Francisco Cervelli and Stewart return, and the Pirates don’t lose Jacob Stallings, there might not even be any room at catcher in AAA. It’s not unlikely that Sanchez could be outrighted to AAA. He’d have a good chance of getting through waivers given his defensive problems.
Sanchez has become something of an institution to Pirate fans on Twitter due to his upbeat nature and self-deprecating sense of humor.
UPDATE: The inevitable happened when the Pirates needed roster space after signing Neftali Feliz; they designated Sanchez for assignment. Given his defensive issues, it’s not inconceivable that he could clear waivers.
2016: Minor League Salary
|Signing Bonus: $2,500,000
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: 6/23/2013
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2020
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/12
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2013, 2014, 2015)
MLB Service Time: 0.155
|June 9, 2009: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1st round, 4th overall pick; signed on June 12.
November 20, 2012: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
January 6, 2015: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates.