Thursday, February 9, 2012
#7 Prospect - Tony Sanchez
He was replaced by Neal Huntington who ushered in a new way of thinking, especially in the draft. That reality was evident in Huntington's first draft in which he selected Pedro Alvarez with the #2 overall pick and then paid 6 million dollars to secure the services of a player considered by many to be the best player in the draft. In 2009, Pirates fans were still skeptical. Huntington did little to relax those fears by selecting catcher Tony Sanchez out of Boston College with the #4 overall pick, seen as a huge reach in the media and by industry experts. For their part, Baseball America had Tony Sanchez as their 32nd best draft prospect. Huntington's choice of Sanchez, who signed cheaply for 2.5 million dollars, brought back the pain of the 2007 draft.
However, Huntington did well to defend himself, both with his explanation and with his actions on the second day of the draft. Huntington's actions were simple. Arguably, Huntington went cheap by taking Sanchez, but the entire draft did not play out as 'cheap.' In fact, Huntington gave out seven bonuses of more than $400k not including Sanchez. Two players, pitchers Zach Von Rosenberg and Colton Cain, signed for more than one million dollars. In fact, Zach Von Rosenberg, was ranked only nine spots lower than Sanchez on Baseball America's draft ranking list at #4. For his explanation, Huntington and the Pirates front office insisted that after the top two players - Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley - the field was wide open for the third best player. According to them, Sanchez was that player. Thus far, they have been somewhat vindicated, both by some of the things Sanchez has done on the field and by the fortunes of other players. High school outfielder Donavan Tate has been a massive bust early in his career. The best player in the draft as it looks today, Angels outfielder Mike Trout, lasted until the twenty-fifth in the draft and the Angels actually picked him second with back to back picks, behind fellow prep outfielder Randel Grichuk. Also in that class was a trio of prep pitchers with large price tags, Shelby Miller, Jacob Turner, and Tyler Matzek. The first two are top twenty-five prospects (according to mlb.com for example, who had both in their top 15), so the Pirates missed there, but they could have drafted the latter Matzek, who has been a bust so far.
Had Sanchez avoided such a poor year this past season, the above discussion would probably be moot. Due to his cheap price tag, which was essentially for slot, Sanchez signed quickly, especially for a first-round pick. Thus, the newly minted Pirates catcher was able to get into forty-eight games in the Pirates farm system in 2009. Forty-one of those games were for the West Virginia Power. Sanchez immediately impressed, posting a .316/.415/.561 line for a total of .976. Sanchez also displayed great plate discipline, walking 11.2% of the time while only striking out in 18.1% of at-bats. While a great start to his pro career, it must be noted that Sanchez was already twenty-one and from a major college program, so a good performance at Low-A was to be expected. Still, Sanchez confirmed his draft scouting report of impressive defensive tools and solid plate discipline. However, Sanchez's power - 7 HR's and . 245 ISO - was somewhat unexpected and caused Sanchez's stock to rise a bit going into 2010.
Prior to the 2010 season, Baseball America ranked Sanchez as their 79th prospect in the minor leagues. In a podcast, Baseball America mentioned that Sanchez had 70 defense, which is incredibly rare for a catcher. John Sickel's ranked him as the Pirates 3rd best prospect, giving him a B grade and stating "He was a slight overdraft but I like him, excellent defense and it doesn't look like his power was all aluminum." Sanchez started the season playing for Pirates new High-A affiliate Bradenton. The catcher got off to a blistering start, posting a 1.082 OPS in April. The next two months he maintained a solid level of play, with an OPS of .777 in May and .746 in June. Unfortunately, Sanchez's season ended in mid-June as a result of a broken jaw caused by a wild pitch. Overall, Sanchez finished the year with a .314/.416/.454 triple slash. Particularly impressive was his isolated patience of .102 fueled by a 11.2% walk rate. Sanchez again avoided punch outs, striking out at a low 16.4% clip. Defensively, Sanchez had notable issues with baserunners, but a sore shoulder may have contributed to those woes along with an organizational philosophy that doesn't emphasize preventing the running game. Sanchez recovered in time to be sent to the AFL, where he saw his power improve but his plate discipline dissolve to some degree, although the overall sample size was a small one.
Sanchez started off the season in 2011 healthy. Big things were expected of the catcher. Baseball America ranked him in their top 50 prospects at #46. Sanchez was again the Pirates #3 prospect according to Sickels, who graded him with a B and stated "If injuries don't get in the way, I still expect him to be a very good starting major league catcher." Unfortunately, the new member of the Altoona Curve struggled in 2011. He stayed relatively healthy, playing 118 games and taking 469 plate appearances. However, Sanchez's production was dismal in those plate appearances. His final tripleslash was .241/.340/.318, indicating problems hitting the ball and hitting it with authority. However, there were bright spots in an otherwise dark year for the Pirates catcher of the future. Sanchez's plate discipline continued at an elite level. His isolated patience was an impressive .099 fueled by a 10.0% walk rate. Sanchez also continued to not give up easy outs via the strikeout, posting a 16.2% K. Furthermore, Sanchez may have gotten unlucky in the BABIP department. In his first two seasons, Sanchez finished with averages over .300. In both campaigns, the catcher's BABIP was over .350 That number is most likely not sustainable, but it also should be higher on average than the .285 number Sanchez finished with in 2011. On the defensive side of the ball, Sanchez still had problems with the running game, but that could be chalked up to the Altoona pitching staff and general Pirates organizational philosophy. As far as receiving the ball, Sanchez continued to get good reviews for his ability to call a game and frame pitches. He only allowed four passed balls all year.
Ultimately, Tony Sanchez has two skills that are often indicative of great major league baseball players. He plays elite defense at an premium position, catcher. In addition, Sanchez walk enough to always post good on-base percentage numbers. During years where he hits well for average - still a distinct possibility - Sanchez should be one of the elite on-base guys in all baseball. Those two abilities should give Sanchez a long-career as a starting catcher in the major leagues. If he can add power and improve his hit tool, it would be far from surprising to see him attend an all-star game or two. That is why, despite his poor year in 2011, Tony Sanchez is still my #7 Pirates Prospect.