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.