Pittsburgh Pirates | Tony Sanchez ready to live up to his potential

adell@bradenton.comFebruary 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Remember Tony Sanchez? The fourth overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates -- a star waiting to blossom.

Fast forward to 2013. Now 24 years old, he's still waiting to make his major-league debut.

Sanchez has two ways to feel: He can be disappointed or hungry.

"Hungry is the perfect way to put it," he said at Pirates spring training camp Monday when pitchers and catchers reported. "I am not too disappointed. I would love to have had some time in the big leagues, but there is no point in looking back and dwelling on the past. I only want to look into the future.

"Most top-five picks are in the majors already (within four years), and obviously I have not made the big leagues so I am in the back half of those percentages. But I am still young. It's my own fault for not hitting."

Two of the top six players selected in the '09 draft have played in the major leagues: Stephen Strasburg with Washington and Dustin Ackley (Seattle), and overall six of the top 10 selections have made it.

It is generally agreed the

5-foot-11, 224-pound Sanchez has a big-league catcher's arm and big-league defensive skills. His problem has been with the bat. He hasn't hit for a high average and didn't show a lot of power until late last season with Triple A Indianapolis, where he banged out eight homers in 236 at-bats.

Sanchez has spent the off-season working on his hitting mechanics and philosophical approach along with getting stronger.

"I am using a lot more of my legs instead of my upper body and quieting things down," Sanchez said. "There is a lot of less movement pre-pitch and stuff like that. We still have a long way to go to learn things as far as when you are facing actual pitching. My swing and mechanics feel good. It's just a matter of putting that into play when they are throwing fastballs."

The Miami native also has had some issues with injuries. He broke his jaw twice, getting hit with a pitch in 2010 and then in a scuffle in '11. It forced him to go on liquid diets and that resulted in lost weight and lost power. Last season, Martin fouled a pitch off, breaking his toe, and he missed more time.

The Pirates selection of Sanchez drew criticism and speculation that it was a move to save money because other high school players rated higher were asking for more dollars than Pittsburgh wanted to spend.

Sanchez, who was a phenomenon at Boston College, doesn't get into speculations. He just wants to perform and make up for lost time. He worked nearly the entire off-season with Pirates hitting coach Rudy Pena and spent time with Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Arizona's Nelson Cruz.

"I learned to be as quiet as possible when you hit and not try to be herky-jerky and keeping the hands back, which allows you to recognize different pitch spins and things out of the zone early," Sanchez said.

The Pirates would obviously like to see Sanchez succeed if only to avoid criticism that a fourth-overall pick failed to make it. But they didn't stand pat during the off-season signing former Yankees catcher Russell Martin, making him the highest-paid free agent in club history at $17 million for two years.

The acquisition doesn't scare Sanchez, who was lauded for the way he handled pitchers in Triple A last year. He will also have to battle catch Michael McKenry, who hit .233 last year with 12 homers in a part-time role with Pittsburgh.

"I knew they were going to sign somebody and Russell Martin is a great sign," Sanchez said. "I will take every opportunity I can to learn from him. He has a two year deal and the best case scenario when his contract is up is that I will be ready to take the reins.

"I would love to get as much playing time as possible in camp and instill the trust in the coaching staff that I can be a consistent guy behind the plate that is necessary to win at the big-league level."

At some point, Sanchez expects to be with the parent club, though he knows it will be difficult to break camp with into the bigs this year.

"Whatever happens, happens. I just try and control what I can control. What I do in Triple A will determine how fast I make it up," he said.

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