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Pirates prized prospect Sanchez starting season with Curve

February 23, 2011 - Cory Giger
The Pirates plan to start catcher Tony Sanchez, their 2009 first-round draft pick, with the Curve this season.

“We said from day one that we were drafting a complete player, a guy that we thought was gonna be quality on both sides of the ball,” Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. “That’s played out.”

Sanchez, rated the No. 46 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America, put up strong numbers the first half of 2010 for high-A Bradenton. He hit .314 with four homers and 35 RBIs in 59 games, had a .416 on-base percentage and an .870 OPS.

Sanchez, though, saw his season end with a scary injury June 22 when he was hit on the left jaw by a fastball. He suffered small fractures and had to have his jaw wired shut for four weeks.

Still, Sanchez already had proven he could handle the high-A level, and the Pirates were planning to promote him to the Curve later in the season had he not been injured.

“I think I adjusted well [to high A], and I was pleased with the way I was playing offensively and defensively until the injury,” Sanchez, the No. 4 pick in the 2009 draft, said earlier this week at spring training in Bradenton.

The 22-year-old catcher recovered in time to play in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted only .206 but had four homers and nine RBIs in 18 games.

“It was a humbling experience,” Sanchez said of the Fall League. “I did play well defensively, and I was pleased that I got out there after my injury and had no fear and got back up to the box.” Sanchez has had “no issues” with his jaw this spring, Stark said.

“He’s at the spot where he’s ready to face the challenge at Double-A,” Stark said. “As you look at the abilities he has, where he’s at skill-wise, the ability of the opposition to challenge those skills, I think he’s in a spot where he needs to see some upper-level competition.”

Sanchez is an advanced offensive player — he hit .316 with seven homers, 46 RBIs and a .976 OPS for low-A West Virginia his debut season in 2009 — and said he’s still developing his skills as a catcher.

“There’s still aspects of my game that I need to improve on defensively and as far as leading a team and a staff and having them trust everything I’m doing,” he said.

Sanchez, who’s taking part in big league camp this spring, is part of an impressive group of talented young players the Buccos have brought into the system in recent years.

The Curve featured several of those players last year — especially in the pitching department — and Sanchez will be the most notable of the promising young names on this year’s team.

“It’s a great time to be a Pirate in the minor leagues,” Sanchez said.

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