Pirates' Cabrera Pushing Sanchez

Catcher making a quick ascension

PITTSBURGH—Ramon Cabrera is far from the highest-profile catcher in the system, far from the wealthiest and very far from the tallest. But he is becoming increasingly popular within the organization, perhaps even to the point he'll soon surpass Tony Sanchez.

Cabrera, 22, won the high Class A Florida State League batting title last season at .343/.410/.471 while also being the league's toughest batter to strike out. He had 29 whiffs against 38 walks. The power was highly limited, with three home runs in 327 at-bats, but he did have 25 doubles and four triples.

"The kid can flat-out hit," said Rene Gayo, the Latin American scouting director who, along with Rodolfo Petit, signed Cabrera for a $100,000 bonus out of Venezuela. "Really, that's the best way to describe him. All the kid does is play baseball. He can hit, he can drive the ball, he can run well for a catcher, and his defense is more than good enough."

Cabrera's most obvious shortcoming is his 5-foot-8, 194-pound frame.

"I don't care about that," Gayo said. "The kid can play."

He'll certainly get the chance. Almost as powerful an influence on the Pirates as how Cabrera fared last summer was a strikingly strong showing in instructional league last October. One evaluator called him "by far better than Tony Sanchez."
Sanchez's jaw was broken twice by pitches in 2010, and he broke it a third time last fall in a bar fight, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. No charges were filed.

General manager Neal Huntington said Sanchez will be ready for spring training.

Treasure Trove

• Righthander Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 overall draft pick last summer, and outfielder Josh Bell, the Pirates' $5 million second-rounder, both are expected to start out with low Class A West Virginia.

• The Pirates signed veteran lefthanders Doug Slaten and Brian Tallet to minor league contracts.