Tony Sanchez has signed a contract to play in the Dominican League this upcoming winter. Sanchez will strictly be catching, stating that he “won’t even be taking his first base glove down there.” He is excited to play against the good competition the league has to offer.
“I’ll spend a month in the Dominican, and I’ll be facing some good arms. Hopefully that will put me in the right spot coming into Spring Training,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez has had an up-and-down 2014 season. Due to the injury to Chris Stewart, Sanchez started the season with the Pirates serving as the back-up catcher to Russell Martin. He was able to contribute offensively in his limited opportunities. In 74 at-bats with the Pirates, Sanchez hit .278 with two home runs and provided three key, game-winning hits. But once Chris Stewart returned from injury, Sanchez was sent back down to Triple-A Indianapolis to get more playing time and to work on his defense behind the plate.
Sanchez’s success at the plate in the Major Leagues didn’t continue in Triple-A. He had a miserable month of June, batting .145 with 22 strikeouts in 69 at-bats. Sanchez admitted that he might have been a little too focused on improving his defense, stating “subconsciously I just couldn’t lock in.” He did improve in July and August, with a slash line of .267/.371/.455 in his final two months at Indy.
Sanchez’s well-documented struggles with throwing from behind the plate continued. In Indianapolis this season, base-stealers were successful in 55 of 63 attempts. Sanchez says he that he has made significant strides in his defensive game behind the plate as the year went on, specifically with his throwing mechanics.
“This is as good as it’s been since I was drafted. It’s been really good for me, and I’m in a really good place.”
In his final 17 starts behind the plate, Sanchez committed only one error, proving that he began to progress on his throwing to each base. Five out of six base-stealers were still successful in that span, showing that he still has significant room for improvement.
With the emergence of catching prospect Elias Diaz, both Sanchez and Diaz were getting starts behind the plate in August. In order to keep Sanchez in the lineup on days that Diaz was catching, he began to take reps at first base. Sanchez does not know whether he will be primarily catching next season or if he will continue to play at first base.
“Hopefully they sign [Russell Martin] in the off-season and I’m able to back him up next year. If not, hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to win the [starting] job.”
Sanchez still believes in his ability behind the plate, and is excited for the opportunity to go down to the Dominican League and continue working hard on his defensive game. He has shown the ability to make an impact with his bat, but his defense will ultimately be the deciding factor in any future role as a catcher in the Major Leagues.