Friday, January 25, 2013

#14 Pirates Prospect - Tony Sanchez

Buried Treasure Top 30 Prospects
#14 - Tony Sanchez

Measurables: 6'0, 220
Bats: R, Throws: R

Position: C
Acquired: 1st Round (4th overall), 2009
Bonus: $2,500,000
DOB: 5/20/1988
Buried Treasure 2012 Top 20: #7


In 2009, the Pirates felt that past Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley, there was no clear cut best player to be drafted.  Therefore, they went off the ranch a bit and drafted catcher Tony Sanchez - who agreed to sign quickly and for slot money - out of Boston College with the fourth overall pick in the draft. They compensated later by drafting and signing four overslot prep pitchers in later rounds.

Sanchez - who pre-draft received rave reviews for his defense - began to silence critics of his bat in his first taste of professional ball.  In 2009, Sanchez spent time at 3 levels, spending a large majority of the time at Low-A West Virginia.  In a total of 215 plate appearances, he posted a .309/.409/.539 line with 7 home runs.  As a top pick out of college, success was to be expected, but Sanchez did excel in all aspects at the plate.  He hit for average, showed very good plate discipline - 40 strikeouts and 23 walks in 215 plate appearances - and even hit for power with a .230 ISO.

After the season, and prior to the 2010 season, Baseball America again lauded Sanchez for his defense.  During a podcast, they stated he has the chance to have 80 defense, meaning his defense could be as good as it gets from the catching position.  If that were true, even decent offense from Sanchez could make him a very good starting catcher.  It seemed 2010 would answer questions about Sanchez's bat with a jump to High-A in the cards.


2010 started with Tony Sanchez as a consensus top 100 prospect and found him poised to vindicate the front office that selected him with a big year.  Unfortunately, that never happened.  When he played, Sanchez, who turned 22 in May, was again excellent for High-A Bradenton.  In 59 games, Sanchez took 250 plate appearances.  The result was a .314/.416/.454 line.  Sanchez again showed a strong hit tool and excellent plate discipline - 28 walks and 41 strikeouts - and solid power, although his .140 ISO was down a bit from the previous season and only included 4 home runs.  Still, Sanchez's offense game looked to be more than expected and combined with his elite defensive profile, Sanchez looked to be a good selection by the Pirates.

That changed mid-June as disaster struck.  A stray pitch his Sanchez in his jaw, shattering it.  The injury cost Sanchez the rest of the regular season.  Sanchez was sent to the AFL, where he struggled in a small sample size.  Another, more frightening issue was the weight Sanchez lost as a result of being unable to eat after injuring his jaw.  The weight loss would continue to hound Sanchez into 2011.


The Pirates brass decided to promote Sanchez to Double-A despite the fact that the catcher really only played about half a season in High-A in 2011.  Perhaps due to the lingering effects of his jaw injury that caused significant weight loss, Sanchez was not the same player in 2011 as he was in 2009 and 2010.  That was especially true at the plate.

In 469 plate appearances, Sanchez, who turned 23 in May, posted a .241/.340/.318 line, doing nothing well but walking.  His ability to hit for average disappeared, perhaps partially due to BABIP luck as he struck out at near his career rate, 16.2% of the time, but the dip in average was still a major issue.  Likewise, Sanchez his for virtually no power, posting a punchless .077 ISO with only 5 home runs.  The only silver lining was the fact that Sanchez still walked 10% of the time and posted another strong isolated patience number of .099.

Defensively, Sanchez also had issues.  He only threw out 22% of runners, an unacceptable number.  One reason for his struggles was the fact that Sanchez dealt with shoulder soreness during the season, a problem that first occurred in 2010.  It must be noted, the 22% Sanchez threw out was higher than the rate of other catchers that caught the Altoona pitching staff.  That number was only 14%.  Furthermore, Sanchez still received high praise for his defensive skills and backed those up with only 4 passed balls.


For the first time in his career, Sanchez was chosen to repeat a level.  Sanchez's second attempt at Double-A was better, although still a far cry from both awe-inspiring and his previous level of production prior to his broken jaw.  In 40 games, the catcher received 162 plate appearances.  He posted a .277/.370/.390 line.  Overall, Sanchez improved his average production and power production in his 2012 Altoona trial, despite not hitting a single home run.  However, his plate discipline dipped a bit as he set a career high strikeout rate of 20.4%, putting himself in semi red-flag territory.  Despite that, Sanchez maintained his ability to draw a walk, posting a 11.1% BB rate that was in line with his career rate.

The Pirates saw enough to promote Sanchez, who had turned 24 in May, to Triple-A.  There, Sanchez displayed much better power, but other issues cropped up.  The Indianapolis catcher only hit for .233, but smashed 7 home runs in 236 plate appearances and posted a .175 ISO, by far his highest number since West Virginia in 2009.  Sanchez also maintained solid plate discipline that slipped only slightly compared to his career numbers. In Triple-A, he struck out 19.5% of the time and walked 9.7 of the time.  It's worth noting that Sanchez posted a 116 wRC+ in his stint in Double-A and a 102 wRC+ in his stint in Triple-A.

Reports still indicate that Sanchez is very polished as a receiver and his caught-stealing rates improved in 2012.  Overall, it looks like Sanchez can still be a well above-average defense catcher.  If he can somehow put together the various offensive tools he's shown - hit for decent average, add a strong walk rate to produce above-average OBP, and his for below-average-to-average power - Sanchez can become a starting catcher in the major leagues.  That would still give him significant value and there's always that small chance he could put it all together in maximum fashion and make a few all-star games.  Still, at this point he's most likely outcome is a defensive-minded backup, which still has value, but overall would be a disappointment for a former fourth overall draft pick.


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