|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).
Although a certain element of the team’s fan base reflexively dismissed the Sanchez choice as the team being cheap, the reality was more complicated. The Pirates said they would not cut their draft budget, which in 2008 was the fourth highest ever in MLB. In the later rounds of the 2009 draft, they selected a large number of players, mainly pitchers, who figured to require above-slot money to sign. They then signed a number of those players, in part using the money they saved on Sanchez. Considering that their farm system was still desperately short of pitching talent, and considering the extremely high attrition rate with pitching prospects, it probably made more sense to sign a number of prospects with good arms instead of simply signing one pitcher.
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. Sanchez’ bat, however, 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. With Russell Martin signed for two years, though, Sanchez’ path to Pittsburgh appears to be blocked unless Mike McKenry gets traded or somebody gets hurt.