The Off-Season Adjustment That Might Have Solved Tony Sanchez’s Throwing Problems

2015 is an important year for Tony Sanchez.

2014 was an up and down campaign for the catcher. He followed the year by signing a contract to play with the Toros del Este in the Dominican League, but struggled in his time there. He was sent home due to his poor play, which was a concerning development at the time.

The Dominican League is a very competitive, high-pressure and high stress environment with fans that are extremely passionate about their teams, and the clubs expect production from their players. Sanchez knew going in that the lack of reps he had prior to heading south would not to be an easy thing to overcome.

“When you take a month and a half off and you start swinging a week before you leave, you know that you aren’t going to have success,” Sanchez explained.

He knew he wasn’t going to light the world on fire, so he decided to take a different approach. He focused on the parts of his game that needed to be improved — hitting behind in counts, and his all around defensive game. Sanchez ended up hitting a miniscule .100 at the plate, and continued to have problems defensively. His lack of production was not beneficial enough for Toros del Este to keep him around.

Despite his poor Dominican League experience, Sanchez continued to stay positive and continued to believe in his ability. He believes that his offense is major-league ready, but knows that his defense is still a work in progress. His concerns about his defensive game led to him contacting his former Indianapolis catching coach and 2015 West Virginia Power Manager Brian Esposito when he got back to the United States. Esposito was Sanchez’s go-to-guy in Indianapolis, and Sanchez was confident that he could help him with his defensive game, especially with his throwing problems. Sanchez traveled up to New York to work out with Esposito as well as Pirates coach Brad Fischer for two weeks, and continued to work with them in Florida through Pirates mini camp.

“Esposito caught [in the Majors]. I soak in everything he tells me,” Sanchez said emphatically. “He’s got a lot of wisdom and he knows how to catch, he knows the ins and outs of it.”

The reasons for Sanchez’s throwing problems stem from his ball transfers from the glove to his hand, as well as how he was positioning his body as he was receiving pitches. Esposito explained that Sanchez needed to work on being more efficient with his body movements as the pitch was coming to the plate. The goal of the workouts was to heighten his awareness of where his body positioning was, and concentration on putting himself in the best position to get off a clean and accurate throw.

“You can’t get a good throw without catching the ball [in good position]. The way you catch the ball is going to allow you to transfer the ball more efficiently. And the way I was catching the ball in the past, I wasn’t putting myself in the most ideal position to get good throws off, so I was having a little trouble there,” Sanchez explained.

They worked on his mechanics by hiking up the velocity on the pitching machine to 127 MPH with cutting and sinking movement. The objective of this drill was to force Sanchez to execute his mechanics at a quicker pace without the wasted movement he had developed. Esposito was attempting to break Sanchez of his bad habits by running the drill at exceedingly high speeds, with the goal of allowing Sanchez to utilize his natural ability. When Sanchez would return to normal game-speed, the goal was that his improved, polished mechanics would become second nature.

“We elevated the game situation,” Esposito explained. “It was a workout where everything that he saw in that cage or in that building that we were doing exceeded far beyond what the game will ever bring to him, so when we back it down to the game-speed, it’s almost as if it’s too easy.”

The workouts helped raise Sanchez’s awareness of what he needed to do mechanically, and emphasized the need to focus on staying away from any extra body movement that could disrupt his throwing mechanics.

“We just isolated him to what’s important, and that’s making sure we see the ball out of his hand, catch the ball the right way…and all the other stuff is going to follow suit,” Esposito said.

Doing the workouts during the winter wasn’t enough for Sanchez since he describes himself as a “high-maintenance player.” Repetition is important for him to be successful. Just as when a pitcher makes adjustments and needs repetition to get used to a mechanical change, the same holds true for Sanchez. This is not a short-term fix, and he knows he has to work hard every day to re-master his mechanics.

Esposito is extremely happy with the progress Sanchez has made and is confident that he has the tools to take the next step — the arm strength is there.

“He’s a real talented kid,” Esposito said confidently. “He just needs to be who he is.”

Sanchez is thrilled with the progress he has made with his throwing, but the real test will come when regular season play begins. He will likely begin the season in Triple-A battling with emerging prospect Elias Diaz for the starting job in Indianapolis. It will be interesting to see how the Pirates share the starts in Indianapolis between Sanchez and Diaz to begin the season. Diaz has been praised for his defensive work behind the plate, and if Sanchez’s throwing issues still aren’t resolved, expect to see Diaz receiving most of the starts in Indianapolis, with Sanchez being the odd man out.

  • IMO, Sanchez story shows that the Pirates don’t have the best coaching for a catcher. Sanchez figured out on his own that he was going the wrong direction, you would think that somewhere between AAA and the majors that a coach could have figured out what Esposito figured out concerning Sanchez. Seems like the Pirates were ready to dump Sanchez, he thought he was 3rd on the depth chart, but he was more than likely 4th on the depth chart and is probably still 4th on the depth chart. Too many people draw conclusions from first impressions and refuse to change their conclusions when the player actually does improve, as good as Diaz has looked in camp so far, Sanchez has looked just as good, they might need both of them this year.

  • good to see he is making adjustments. I like Tony, when he first came up i saw him being the sure fill in until Reese is ready then it seemed like he fell apart. Maybe it is because he was no longer getting consistent reps being a backup? if he puts it together good trade candidate (hope not like i said i like him), maybe start for a season and back up if Reese gets here early?

    I find a trade more likely and stewart/fransico and diaz holding the fort for a couple seasons.

  • It’s Spring Training, Sanchez still sucks.

    • JoseGuillensArm
      March 16, 2015 12:55 pm

      That is quite a conclusion to draw. Can you cite specific examples which show this or is your opinion a result of a simple look through his Twitter pictures?

  • Monsoon Harvard
    March 15, 2015 4:24 pm

    So far every throw he’s made has been right on the money, and he’s been one of the best hitters in camp, hitting .500. Only Elias Diaz is matching him on the good hitting, as Diaz is also hitting .500.

    Hurdle is aware of Tony’s improvement as he has been giving Sanchez lots of playing time as a catcher this spring.

  • I CANT SEE DIAZ AND SANCHEZ SPLITTING TIME @ TRIPLE A.THEY BOTH NEED REPS.I SAY GET RID OF STEWART LET SANCHEZ BACK UP CERVILLI AND WAIT ON DIAZ WHO I THINK IS better THAN SANCHEZ

  • Excellent article and a great inside look at how a team works with a player to resolve specific issues. Great work.

  • I like the idea of training being harder than the game a regimen of that caliber can only be a positive. Besides that, if it works for special forces in the military it can certainly work for baseball.

  • He’s looked pretty good the past week, on both offense and defense. I don’t know how it can be done, but I’d love to see Bucs get him some showcase time with the big club to develop a market. The kid can hit and he’s certainly better than McKenry behind the plate.

    Amazing how we could go from scraping the dregs for warm bodies to having a glut of talent in such a short time.

  • lonleylibertarian
    March 15, 2015 9:44 am

    This should make for an interesting season at Indy. I actually think Sanchez will benefit from having somebody pushing him. Not sure it did him any good to be the anointed successor to Russell Martin for two years. If both he and Diaz do well the Bucs will be in a nice position with a Catcher surplus going into next winter.

    • Great to see your comment, and I also agree. Where have you been, or have I just not spotted your comments ? I’ve been hoping you have been ok.

      • lonleylibertarian
        March 15, 2015 2:25 pm

        I have been around – we now live full time in Florida and I have not been as engaged with Pittsburgh sports as I should be 😉 Enjoying the nice weather and the heated pool…

        Will get more active once the season starts – and the Steelers screw up their draft like they seem to do every year in recent history.

  • If Sanchez’s throwing issues are resolved he can be an MLB catcher, not sure in what role though. I do question his bat, .252/.295/.378 wRC+ 90, isn’t really going to play at any position outside catcher or SS. Yes it is limited, sporadic sample and maybe with more time his minor league patience at the plate would begin to show up.

  • John Janesko
    March 14, 2015 9:40 pm

    He could be a starter someday. If the throwing problems are solved his defense is plenty good enough, and he has shown in a small sample that he can hit MLB pitching. Who knows who he will get that chance with, but I think once he gets enough reps he will stick

    • Too bad he didn’t develop as expected. The Pirates could use a legitimate starting catcher.

  • Lee Foo Young
    March 14, 2015 4:30 pm

    If Tony ever ‘gets it’, I believe it will be for another team.

    • Depends on how we define “gets it”. He really isnt that far off of being a competent backup C type that can fill in some days. If the work has gotten his arm to decent, he’s a usable ML option in limited time. I have doubts, but Tony fixing his throwing issues allows his bat to play off the bench.

      • yep. his bat would add to a deep Pgh bench… assuming his defense isn’t a liability. all else being equal, i’d rather have sanchez’ bat off the bench than stewart’s.

        • Bat, yes. Overally as a backup catcher, not me. For me, defense is far more key for the backup C than offense (due to getting far less starts and handling a pitcher is more key than SSS offense). Which is why Sanchez currrently isnt useful in that role until his throwing gets resolved.

          • His Bat and salary will make him useful as soon as next year when Stewart leaves. He’ll compete with Francisco for the starting job and either win it or be the backup while Elias continues to develop in AAA.

            • Maybe you are right, but another year of hitting AAA pitching as he did last year makes Diaz clearly ready for a call up, and a superior defensive player to Sanchez.

              And if you think Sanchez will seriously compete for the starting catcher job next year, you either have more faith in Tony than i do or you hate Cervelli. I hope Tony figures it out, but he just isnt a starting catcher without key defensive improvements and likely a more consistent offensive approach.

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