First Pitch: The Upcoming Catching Questions in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis

The Pittsburgh Pirates will have some interesting decisions coming up tomorrow at the catcher position. Chris Stewart completed his rehab assignment tonight, which means he will be returning to the Pirates tomorrow. The most likely move here would be sending Tony Sanchez down to Indianapolis.

Some might argue that Sanchez should be in the majors because of his bat, and that the Pirates should go with him over Stewart. While Stewart had good numbers last year, they were largely inflated by his BABIP. He’s likely to return to being a no-bat, defensive option behind the plate. Sanchez has a better bat, and it remains to be seen if he can consistently improve his defense going forward. However, it makes all the sense in the world to move him down and keep Stewart.

For one, the backup catcher probably will be getting one start per week, so any difference between Sanchez and Stewart will have a minimal impact. On the flip side, keeping Sanchez means the Pirates would be getting rid of Stewart. And that would deplete their depth if they saw another injury going forward before Elias Diaz was ready. Preserving catching depth is far more important at this point than any slight differences between Sanchez and Stewart for one game a week.

The other interesting decision will involve how Sanchez is used if he is sent down to Triple-A. Last year the Pirates promoted Elias Diaz to Indianapolis, and moved Sanchez to first base, with Diaz getting more playing time behind the plate. That made sense last year, as the Pirates didn’t really need to preserve the catching depth at the time. Diaz arrived in Triple-A two weeks before rosters were set to expand, at which point Sanchez came up to provide a third catcher. Putting your third catcher at first base for two weeks at the end of the year is a lot different than putting him at first base two weeks into the season.

Sanchez will need to get some playing time to stay fresh in the event that he is needed in the majors. But Diaz is the better prospect behind the plate, and will still need to get the bulk of the playing time so that he can be an option to take over as the starter if the Pirates need him by mid-season. Last year Diaz got nine starts, while Sanchez got six. That seems like a good split this time around, with Diaz getting work at DH when he’s not behind the plate. After all, that will be the biggest area he needs to work on before he can jump to the majors.

It will make sense for the Pirates to send Sanchez down tomorrow to preserve depth. It will also make sense to have him staying fresh behind the plate in Indianapolis, getting the same ratio of starts that he got last year, with Diaz focusing on his offense when Sanchez is catching. In a perfect world with no injuries, you could just go with Sanchez over Stewart, and have Diaz getting every day time in Triple-A. But injuries happen, especially behind the plate, which is why preserving depth is very important.

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  • Send Lambo down to get some regular at bats and let Sanchez be the designated PH er for a couple of weeks. Of course that creates a bit of a log-jam at Indy.

    • And it might cause Lambo to go on a shooting rampage that many fans might not fault him for. Lambo’s line looks bad, but of the 8 at bats i remember 3-4 being really solid at bats. 2-3 smoked balls right at people. PH would suck to deal with for a guy trying to prove himself.

  • Patrick Kelly
    April 17, 2015 10:58 am

    I really hate that we are anointing Diaz the catcher of the future while Sanchez continues to get overlooked. I still don’t believe in Diaz’s bat and don’t think the little bit extra he brings on defense is enough to make him a better all-around catcher than Tony. Tony excels at blocking pitches and his framing looks decent enough, without looking into the SSS metrics for this year. His throwing looks to be corrected as well.

    I understand the Pirates wanting to retain assets when possible, so sending him down for Stewart is inevitable. But on a personal level, I’d like to see them trade him so he isn’t toiling away in AAA, burning options until he hits MiL free agency as a 30 something year old catcher that probably will never get the chance to start for a big league club.

    • Fair to think Diaz might not be officially “the future” but you kinda show a bit of unfair bias in how you get to that point. “the little extra bit he brings on defense” is a sizeable understatement. Tony isnt bad of defense, but there is a clear separation between those two on defense that isnt tiny. Diaz is a ML ready catcher on defense, so if he continues as he has on offense (for 2 years, so it aint nothing) i think its a clear situation.

      One could argue Diaz is a better all around catcher than Sanchez right now, since he hasnt shown that his offense was fluke-ish to this point. Quality 2013 at A ball, quality 2014 at AA, so a .280/.360/.400/.790 slash line in AAA puts him over Tony. Tony would have him in power but not much else. Which isnt a knock on Tony, but the quality of Diaz. I love Tony’s personality and work ethic, its just the reality of the game at times. He’d be a terrific option for backup, and give PIT a cheap C duo (though that’d mean they move Cervelli).

  • Right now Sanchez is playing 1 – 2 days a week in the bigs. If he goes to Indy and plays 1 – 2 day a week, isn’t that getting him ready for his role in the majors? Does anyone see him as a starter?

    • If his overall defense comes out as at least average, he could start and not be a negative on a team. I dont think he will be a starter, since i have faith that Diaz’s offense is good enough, but if Diaz were to for whatever reason fall off i would be not in hate with Tony taking over assuming his throwing issues are behind him. Decent arm, decent blocking skills, and seems to call a good game and work well with pitchers. His offense is good for his position, so not a terrible option. Not a huge plus, but he aint Rod Barajas.

  • Not to be too “Nutting is cheap” but keeping Sanchez on ice in Indy also slows down his Arb clock. If you are going to get a better bat w lesser defense one start a week then why keep the longterm option stuck on the MLB bench? On the other hand, if his D is settled down, which I think it is, to a MLB acceptable point, why not give him 3 starts out of 7 in the big leagues until proven otherwise, at which point you can just bring Stewart back up from Indy to replace him…… oh, see you can’t do that. You have to use Stew or lose Stew.

    No brainer, Stew up, Tony down for now and let injuries and production sort it out from there. Heck, Cervelli might be the dog by May.

  • all our option at catchers are backups ,cervillie is looking like a backup who can’t throw.

    • JoseGuillensArm
      April 17, 2015 10:37 am

      Really helps credibility on these things when you spell the names right, but I’m sorry several stolen bases in 9 games is hardly enough to label a catcher as a backup. By the way if you’re going by this ultra SSS, his offense is at starter level.

  • While I understand why the pirates will more than likely recall stewart and send sanchez down, at least from a depth standpoint. I do however feel that it is either time for sanchez to play in the burgh or for another team. The bright side of this is that these things always work themselves out, ya just have to be patient and wait.

    • The notion that Sanchez “has to” play in the majors for someone is a legacy from the losing days when our MLB team was a AAAA team for the Atlanta’s of the league. We don’t have roster room for players who aren’t ready to optimally help this team. Yet, we also have no obligation to send those players who in the past would be learning their craft in the Burgh so they can cash in when they mature with one season of arbitration left. Clearly Polanco wasn’t ready last year but that was a mistake brought on by need. No need to rush a catcher now when we have two major leaguers already.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    April 17, 2015 12:13 am

    I’d give Stewart the option to stay in Indy or be let go…..Sanchez has nothing more to gain by playing in AAA for another year. He is what he is – and at least he provides a decent PH off the bench, when he’s not starting….

    • I also want Sanchez’s bat in Pitt. But I believe Tim has outlined the organizations game plan perfectly. They don’t want to rush Diaz, and they want options in case of injury.