Sanchez Gets Back To Work

After beaning ended regular season, AFL gives Sanchez second chance





Mesa Solar Sox catcher Tony Sanchez can be forgiven if he experienced any nasty flashbacks when taking the field on the Arizona Fall League's Opening Day. It was the Pirates farmhand's first time on the field since a late June game in which he took a Brad Holt fastball to the jaw while batting for high Class A Bradenton of the Florida State League against St. Lucie.

Coincidentally, Sanchez's opening day battery mate was—you guessed it—Brad Holt. The Pirates and Mets are two of the five major league organizations contributing players to the Solar Sox roster, so Sanchez and Holt wound up as teammates for the fall season.

"I approached him when I first got here," Sanchez said about Holt. "He didn't know who I was. I introduced myself and he felt really bad. He was apologetic and told me he was sorry. That first game was quite the coincidence with him throwing and me behind the plate. I thought it was pretty funny how the world turns and how everything works out."

Sanchez can laugh about it now, but at the time the broken jaw was a frustrating end to what was a pretty strong season for the 2009 first-round pick (fourth overall). The Miami native batted .314/.416/.454 for Bradenton while demonstrating plus skills behind the plate.

He also learned to never again take food for granted. "Sucking Chef Boyardee through a straw is not something you want to experience," Sanchez said, with a laugh.

The injury isn't the only challenge Sanchez, 22, has faced in his career. The Pirates organization was criticized for taking the Boston College product, originally projected to be more of a late first0 or early second-round pick, fourth overall. Sanchez is on a personal crusade to prove those naysayers wrong.

"It fuels my fire to hear people say the Pirates shouldn't have taken me," Sanchez said. "I took it as a blessing, and I was extremely fortunate to go fourth overall. I come out and show the people what kind of blue collar guy I am and how hard I'm working at the plate AND behind it. Sooner rather than later they'll realize the Pirates made the right decision."

Mesa manager Casey Kopitzke, himself a former catcher in the Cubs organization for whom he now manages during the regular season, likes what he's seen from Sanchez so far.

"He's got a lot of upside," Kopitzke said. "In a short glimpse you obviously see all of the physical tools. But the one thing that's stood out in the first week is how well he communicates and handles the pitching staff; those are leadership qualities you look for in a guy that plays that position."

Because he didn't have the opportunity to call his own games in high school and college, Sanchez's primary goal for the Fall League is to improve his pitch calling. He also wants to improve the consistency with his approach at the plate and work on driving balls the other way.

While he's in Arizona to work on his baseball skills, Sanchez has tackled one other new experience this fall. He's one of eight AFL players writing a periodic blog for mlb.com, and is already demonstrating plus skills at the keyboard.

"It's awesome to be able to get online and share my experiences with people across the country," Sanchez said, "and to have them comment on it and wish me well. It's a good feeling."

If fans pay attention to Sanchez either on the field or through his blog, they'll find that he's a self-professed "blue collar, hardworking guy."

"I'm working harder for my pitchers behind the plate than I am for myself at the plate," Sanchez said. "The more they see me they're going to realize that, and that's something I take pride in."

FALL GUYS

• No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Harper, slated to join the league this week, hadn't even reported to the Scottsdale Scorpions before rumors of alleged sightings began to surface over the weekend, making him the AFL's version of "Bigfoot." The Nationals prospect, who turned 18 on Saturday, was said to have touched down in Arizona with claims from fans who believe they had already seen him around AFL stadiums. Harper is scheduled to suit up on Monday but, as a taxi squad player he will be eligible to play for the Scorpions only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The hype around Harper is expected to equal, and perhaps exceed, that of fellow National prospect Stephen Strasburg from last fall.

Brandon Wood (Angels) returned to the AFL five years after setting the league record for home runs in a season with 14. The third baseman is attempting to get his career back on track after an abysmal 2010 big league season. Wood batted .444/.474/.667, with a league-leading eight RBIs, and was named the AFL player of the week. Most importantly, the free-swinging Wood struck out only one time in 19 plate appearances. Of course, hitting AFL and Triple-A pitching has never been Wood's problem, but big league pitchers have held him to a career line of .169/.198/.260.