A recent trip to Erie while the Altoona Curve were in town yielded an interview with Pirates blue-chipper Tony Sanchez, who is listed as Pittsburgh’s second best prospect by Baseball America.
Sanchez was drafted fourth overall out of Boston College in 2009, and signed for a $2.5 million bonus. The personable young backstop has steadily climbed through the system, having blown through short-season A ball, Low-A and High-A in his first one and a half professional seasons before ending up with Double-A Altoona to begin 2011.
Through 31 games this season, Sanchez is batting .274 with one home run and 14 RBI, and has more walks (15) than strikeouts (14) in 106 at-bats. He was kind enough to give me about five minutes of his time before a recent game, and I wanted to share our conversation with you:
Mike Ashmore: The Pirates picked you fourth overall in the 2009 draft…take me back to draft day, what was that whole experience like for you?
Tony Sanchez: “I was just as surprised as everyone else was, I’d say. I didn’t really know it was going to happen until about an hour before the actual pick came. The whole process, having been there with (Pirates GM) Neal Huntington and (scouting director) Greg Smith and getting to know them and them getting to know me and showing them what I’m all about…just playing that junior year and having the draft on your mind and having that possibility that you were going in the first round and that dream would come true, it was unbelievable. It was indescribable. But draft day, you can braely breathe. You wake up at six, the draft isn’t until six at night and you’ve got family over and everyone is asking what’s going on. My phone literally blew up. The Pirates couldn’t get through to me because my phone was just out of control. I’ve never had so many text messages, phone calls, voicemails, Facebook notifications…it was crazy. It was a crazy day to say the least.”
Ashmore: Kind of a silly question I guess, but there aren’t that many people who get to experience anything like it…but when you get that kind of money given to you as a bonus, what is that like?
Sanchez: “(Laughs) Well, I’ll tell you a story that I usually tell people when they ask about the money. When I got my first check direct deposited in my bank account, I fell asleep and in my checking account there was about $330. And when I woke up, there was about $350,000. And I was like, ‘holy ****!’ That’s what I was like. So I went to the mall, and I was buying shoes, clothes, sunglasses, accessories. I mean, I was buying everything. And I spent like a thousand, fifteen hundred bucks. And I was like ‘oh my God.’ I got sick to my stomach, I had so much anxiety the next day that I spent all this money. I went back to look at my bank account, and it looks exactly the same. And I said, ‘Wow, this is a good feeling.'”
Ashmore: Wow. $330 is more than I have in my checking account right now…trust me, I will never have the “Holy ****, $350,000 moment” like you did. I guess to kind of take things in a less fun direction, I know people have asked about the beanball from Brad Holt in the Florida State League last June (Sanchez broke his jaw and missed the rest of the season)…how did that affect you? Have you completely recovered from that?
Sanchez: “No aftereffects. I’m not gun shy at all. It is what it is, I’m a catcher, I take balls off the body for a living. Foul tips, dirtballs, anything…and I’m kind of used to it. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t have my pads on when I took it off the jaw, but that kind of thing happens. Not to take away from how mentally grueling those four weeks were, but it’s part of the game and it could happen to anybody. It just happened to be me.”
Ashmore: If there were any side effects, did playing in the Arizona Fall League help eliminate any of that and help with being prepared for spring training and this season?
Sanchez: “Definitely, yeah. When you take four months off and you get thrown into that fire and you hold your own…ehhh, I didn’t even hold my own, I hit like crap…but when you’re able to step into the batters box and not have to think about when you’ve got guys throwing 95 to 100 miles per hour, I’d say that’s a success. Even though I only hit .200. It definitely prepared me for spring training and for the type of pitching we’re going to be facing everyday.”
Ashmore: I’m sure you’ve gotten a lot of questions about your gamecalling, which is something you didn’t have to do in high school or at BC. How has that progressed for you?
Sanchez: “I’m learning something new every day. Every day, I get better and I learn from my mistakes. My career is still young and it’s something that’s going to develop over time. I know my pitching coach, Wally Whitehurst, is going to teach me things.. I’m going to start reading hitters better, I’m going to start knowing my pitchers better, even though I know them all pretty well. But it’s just a matter of time. The more experience I get doing it, the better I’m going to be. Considering the fact I didn’t do it in high school or college, I think I’m right there with anybody else.”
Ashmore: I think from a fan standpoint, calling a game is something that people really don’t have much of a grasp on, especially for something that’s discussed quite a bit. Specifically, what have the struggles been for you learning how to do that at the pro level?
Sanchez: “Struggles…sometimes you get caught up with guys on base and sometimes you develop patterns and the opposing teams can realize what you’re trying to do and the way you’re trying to attack them. One thing that I’ve been trying to learn is how to change it all up and how to change my approach and how we’re attacking hitters and to approach each hitter differently. It depends on who’s hitting. Sometimes, you just have to let the hitter get themselves out and not think about it so much. It’s all a mind game, and sometimes the less you think the better you are.”
Ashmore: I’m sure Thunder fans will be interested for your take on Anthony Claggett, who was with Trenton in 2008…
Sanchez: “I caught him in spring training, and I caught him yesterday when he threw an inning. He has a great arm. He came from the Yankees and he has a World Series ring, he’s got great stuff. Unfortunately, he’s down here with us…he could be getting outs in the big leagues. He’s that good. I like him a lot, he’s a great person, great guy, and he’s got great presence on the mound. It’s easy for me when he comes onto the mound, I can throw down whatever and he’s going to throw it for a strike and he’s probably not going to get hit very hard. That’s what makes my life easy, having that luxury.”
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com