Baserunners are on alert when facing BC's Sanchez
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—The ball skipped into the dirt a few feet away from Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez, and the cries immediately went up from the first-base dugout: "Gogogogo!"
But as Miami's Ryan Jackson took two hard steps toward second base, Sanchez scrambled to his left and suddenly was on his feet and ready to throw. The voices from the dugout suddenly did a 180: "Nononono!"
Jackson retreated to first. Sanchez shook his head, ever so slightly, and shot him a smirk. Jackson smiled and shook his head.
"We joked around before the game," Sanchez said. "He told me that if he was on first base, he was going to steal. When he didn't, I probably gave him a little smile to say, 'I don't think so.'"
Said Jackson, "I got a big secondary (lead), but then it was like, 'Oh, crap, I've got to get back."
Jackson—like Sanchez, a first-round hopeful in June's draft—knows as well as anyone about how dangerous his old buddy can be with the ball in his hand. The two played together as kids in Miami and against each other throughout high school—"I didn't run on him very much," Jackson said—before they both landed in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Growing up in the Hurricanes' backyard, Sanchez always imagined he'd don the colors of the orange tree. The skills he flashed behind the plate, though, were overshadowed by a bad body that scared off recruiters. Instead of Coral Gables, he landed in Chestnut Hill—and he's grown into one of the top catching prospects in this year's draft.
Sanchez became a catcher as a kid, in fact, "because I was kind of chubby and a good target," he said, but he's grown into a plus defender who can throw out runners, block balls in the dirt and frame pitches with the best of them.
"He's the only catcher I've ever thrown to who turns balls into strikes the way he does," BC righthander J.B. MacDonald said. "He's a wall back there. You don't have to worry about spiking one in there; you're confident he'll keep it in front."
"I love catching," Sanchez said. "I love blocking. I love all of that. That's what I pride myself on. If I hit, it's a bonus. I work equally hard on both things, but if someone asked me what I love doing more, I'd rather throw somebody out than hit a home run."
It's helped his draft prospects, though, that he's hitting his share of home runs, too. He still was an overweight contact hitter as a freshman with Boston College, but he's slimmed his body down—he topped out at 248 pounds but now weighs in at 213—and even showed off some power in his sophomore and junior seasons.
Through 48 games this season, he has 14 home runs and 17 doubles to go along with a .690 slugging percentage, and he ranks among the leaders in the ACC in all three categories. He's also hitting .370 with a .473 on-base percentage, and his more patient offensive approach has much to do with his success. Sanchez entered the season with 28 walks and 66 strikeouts in 390 career at-bats, but this year he has drawn 27 walks and whiffed just 32 times in 184 at-bats.
"The big thing for him has been his ability to have some plate discipline, to swing at pitches that are just better to hit," Boston College coach Mikio Aoki said. "You could really get him to go out of the strike zone last year and the year before. His plate discipline gives him the opportunity to really hit some balls better."
But Sanchez's calling card always has been his defense. He always had basic catch-and-throw and ball-blocking skills as a youngster. When he was in high school, he hooked on with former minor league catcher Pedro Grifol to hone his technique in Sunday morning sessions. His mom, who didn't let him miss a session, would sit on the side with a book until the workout was over.
"He was a guy that could always throw," Grifol said. "But the thing he had was that he was a great worker—he was always willing to learn and get better . . . Working with him was a real thrill for me because he's a guy who was after it every single day, every single time he went out there."
Grifol is now the farm director for the Mariners. Seattle, for what it's worth, are in possession of the 27th and 33rd overall picks in this year's draft—right in the neighborhood of where some scouts expect Sanchez to come off the board.
"I don't know exactly what our scouting director is thinking or what he's seeing out there, what he has to compare him with," Grifol said. "All I do know is that I'm hearing a lot of good things and that he's had a nice year, and if we are the ones that end up drafting him and signing him, that would be great."
Sanchez, in fact, has a good chance to be the first college catcher drafted.
Said Aoki, whose Boston College team has a shot at its first regional in 40 years, "We're pretty spoiled to have him."