The Pittsburgh Pirates need a catcher. They spent a first round pick in 2009 (fourth overall) on a college catcher.
Problem solved, right?
In an ideal world, yes. In an ideal world, Tony Sanchez, the catcher selected out of Boston College would be ready to take over as the Pirates starting catcher this season. In fact, in an ideal world, he probably would have been ready last year.
But we know that baseball isn’t played in an ideal world, especially when it comes to the draft.
It’s not that Sanchez has been a bust. In fact, he’s been exactly what many scouts believed he would be when the Pirates reached on him in the draft, selecting him ahead of Zack Wheeler, Mike Minor, Mike Leake, Jacob Turner and Drew Storen, the players selected 6-10 in that same draft, respectively.
Sanchez was expected to be a late first round or second round pick in 2009, but the Pirates believed in his bat more than most teams and had a need at catcher, a situation that still presents itself today. Sanchez hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been the kind of answer behind the plate the Pirates hoped they were getting with such a high pick.
In his first full-season in 2010, Sanchez battled some injuries (he broke his jaw, twice), but managed to hit .314/.416/.454 in the Florida State League. He didn’t offer much power, but his approach at the plate seemed good.
Much was expected out of him in 2011 when he moved on to Double-A, but he dropped off offensively against better competition, hitting just .241/.340/.318 in 118 games. He still drew a nice number of walks, but offered virtually no power, hitting just five home runs.
In a return to Altoona, Sanchez hit .277/.370/.390 in 40 games before a mid-season promotion. It was a much better result, but still completely without power. After being bumped to Triple-A, he struggled, hitting just .233/.316/.408 with eight home runs in 62 games.
Sanchez hasn’t hit the way the Pirates had hoped, but he still has a major league career ahead of him because of his defense behind the plate, which was the reason the Pirates felt comfortable drafting him as high as they did. With his defensive reputation, they knew there was little chance of him being a total bust, with the only question being whether he develops into a backup or a starter.
That question will be answered by his bat, although we are already seeing the answer. Sanchez will return to Triple-A to begin 2013 to see if he can master the pitching there. He’s certainly not ready to handle major league pitching yet, but he also may not have too much more development left in him.
He will likely be up to the majors at some point in 2013, and depending on the Pirates place in the standings, could get a chance to play. The way he has developed thus far, he appears to be on track to be a major league backup – a disappointing turnout from a future high pick, but still better than nothing.
There is little chance that he develops any kind of power at this point, but his approach at the plate is good enough that if he could manage to hit .260-.275 in the majors, he should get on base enough to actually warrant more than a back-up’s at-bats. If not, his defense will carve him out a career.