What can Pirates Catcher Tony Sanchez do to Win Back Pirates Fans?
Throwing issues lead to Sanchez falling out of favor
Coming into the 2014 season, Tony Sanchez was well liked among Pirates fans after showing some gritty efforts behind the plate late in the 2013 playoff chase. A catch on a foul pop near the visitor's dugout where he crashed over the railing onto his head, won many fans over for the young catcher in his rookie season. Things changed in 2014 though, as a case of throwing yips during Russell Martin's disabled list stint, turned the fans against Tony Sanchez once again. As a former first round draft pick, Tony's professional career has been filled with peaks and valleys even before his Major League debut. A pitch to the jaw ended his season early one year, only to have him struggle the following year to create doubts about his abilities at the plate. Sanchez was able to put all this behind him, but the lost time due to injury caused the Pirates to turn to Russell Martin when he was not ready to take over the starting job to begin the 2013 season. This made Tony Sanchez somewhat of a forgotten man, until he showed up midseason 2013 and put his abilities on display in his limited opportunities from that point forward. With all of this in perspective, a look at what Tony Sanchez must do in order to win back Pirates fans is as follows.
Limiting defensive mistakes
During his time with the Pirates, Russell Martin was able to limit defensive mistakes as much or more than any other catcher in Major League Baseball. Only one time in Russell Martin's career did he have more than one defensive mistake within a single game, and he never had defensive mistakes in back to back games. Whether this is fair or not, Tony Sanchez will be evaluated by Pirates fans based on how he measures up to the standard that Russell Martin provided the past two seasons. If Tony Sanchez struggles to throw out base stealers for a significant number of attempts against him, this is likely to be viewed as defensive mistakes in the evaluation of most Pirates fans. What Tony Sanchez can do in this area to win back Pirates fans, is to get his mechanics right so that he is delivering throws to second and third base as quickly as he is capable of doing. Sanchez can also continue to show the strong blocking fundamentals that he has put on display in the past, where he allows the Pirates pitching staff to bounce breaking pitches without suffering a high number of wild pitches. Sanchez's great communication skills with the pitching staff will play a significant role in his ability to play the catcher's position for the Pirates at a successful level. Being on the same page as the pitching staff will help Sanchez to win back Pirates fans, as they begin to believe in him once again with things running smoothly between the pitcher and catcher battery.
Working well with the young pitchers who arrive in the coming seasons
Tony Sanchez has an advantage on Russell Martin in this area of the game, because he has had the luxury of working with some of the Pirates big name pitching prospects in an environment where there is less pressure. Before Gerrit Cole made his big league debut, Tony Sanchez was already familiar with his tendencies, along with what needed to be done in order to call a successful game for him. Tony Sanchez has logged a significant number of innings behind the plate in games started by Jameson Taillon, Kyle McPherson and Nick Kingham. The comfort level that these pitchers have when working with Tony Sanchez, will go a long way towards Tony Sanchez being able to win back Pirates fans. The difference between how smoothly games are called when Sanchez is behind the plate, compared to when the other catchers are behind the plate this coming season, will be noticeable enough that Pirates fans will start to see the value of having Tony Sanchez as the everyday catcher. While Tony Sanchez has yet to earn the starting catcher's job for the Pittsburgh Pirates, all of these factors should turn the position battle in his favor when Clint Hurdle is deciding who he wants to keep on the roster as the Pirates everyday catcher.
Hitting in big situations
Since Tony Sanchez understands that one of the keys to success is avoiding trying to do too much in each situation, he is a good candidate to have at the plate when the Pirates need a good at bat in the later innings. In one of the few at bats that Sanchez has gotten against a closer in his early MLB career, the Pirates were down 3-2 with one out and one man on in the ninth inning as they tried to avoid being swept by the Rockies in August of the 2013 season. Sanchez hit a line drive through a gap for a double against closer Rex Brothers, but with the Rockies playing no doubles defense, they were able to get to the ball quickly enough to prevent the man from scoring all the way from first. In that big situation, Sanchez was not looking to do too much, but rather he was just looking to make good contact with the baseball. The result was a line drive double through a gap, that put his teammates in a great situation to tie the ballgame. Sanchez's being adept at drawing walks, with a walk rate of about 10 percent in his minor league career, means that he is a likely candidate to provide a strong at bat in a big situation. While Sanchez has yet to get a significant sample of big league at bats, the ability that he has shown so far in a small sample size suggests that offense could be a strength for him as a big league catcher when given the opportunity to get everyday at bats.
If Tony Sanchez goes out and plays baseball the way he knows he can, it should not be hard for him to win back Pirates fans. Sanchez now has the luxury of years of development in the minor leagues, where he was able to learn how to work with many of the pitchers who will be his teammates on the Pirates in 2015. The power to all fields approach that Tony Sanchez brings to the game will help him to be an asset to an already strong offensive lineup. The defensive fundamentals that Sanchez has been practicing for all his professional career in the minor leagues for the Pirates, will guide him to success behind the plate at the Major League level for Pittsburgh. The intelligence level and personality of Tony Sanchez will make him well liked in the clubhouse by the teammates he is working so hard to help to have success on the mound. All of this will combine to give Pirates fans what they are looking for from the Pirates starting catcher after the departure of Russell Martin. Tony Sanchez should not only be able to win back the fans, but he is likely to go on to be a fan favorite among the fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates.