Nothing came easy for prized prospect Tony Sanchez at the Double-A level, but after a season and a half with the Curve, the former first-round draft pick has earned a promotion to Triple-A.
The key word there is earned, manager P.J. Forbes said.
"There was no entitlement here," Forbes said. "He's earned his promotion."
Sanchez learned the news following Sunday night's 2-0 win over Portland at Peoples Natural Gas Field. The charismatic and outgoing 24-year-old catcher at first played coy about the promotion, not letting on he knew anything about it, even though Forbes had told him a few minutes earlier.
"Whenever I get that call, I'll keep doing whatever I'm doing here and do it up in Triple-A," Sanchez, the No. 4 overall draft pick in 2009, said when asked about the possibility of a pending promotion.
It turned out he had already gotten the call, but he wasn't sure if he was at liberty to talk about it yet.
Tony Sanchez's numbers with the Curve this season and last:
"Surreal experience, man," Sanchez later said with a big smile. "My first promotion since '09, so I forgot what that feels like. It feels good, and I'm really happy."
Forbes was thrilled to tell Sanchez after managing him for more than three years.
"I've had him since the end of '09, and I told him today it's time to cut the cord," Forbes said. "And I couldn't have been happier than to be able to deliver that message to him that he was going to Triple-A."
The writing was on the wall that Sanchez was getting close to being promoted.
He's been on a tear offensively of late, raising his average from .240 to .277 in the past 13 games. He hasn't hit any home runs but does have 14 doubles, a .370 on-base percentage and .760 OPS.
Sanchez has been much better at the plate this season than in 2011, when he hit just .241 with only 20 extra-base hits in 118 games for the Curve.
The main reason for Sanchez's promotion, however, has been his improved defense.
"This isn't about the offense," Forbes said. "This has nothing to do with how he's swinging the bat. That's just for us a bonus right now. The main thing for us all along has been what he can do being able to handle the staff and gaining their trust, and I believe in my heart that he did that."
Forbes said pitching coach Jeff Johnson, who wasn't available after Sunday's game, also has been impressed with Sanchez's defensive strides.
Sanchez committed seven errors in his first 22 games behind the plate this season, after committing 18 in 2011. He has not committed an error since May 8, however, and has improved in every area behind the plate -- from calling games to throwing out runners.
"He's made some really big strides," Curve pitcher Tim Alderson said. "He's kind of gotten away from calling the college game, if that's what you call it. He's learning to read hitters more and not just get into a sequence, you know, calling breaking balls 0-2. He's really learned a lot."
"He's a great catcher," said pitcher Brandon Cumpton, who threw eight shutout innings Sunday. "Anything he puts down back there, I trust him, I always feel like we're on the same page. He's worked hard for it, he's a great catcher, so I'm sure he's going to have continued success up there."
Sanchez has thrown out only 13 of 49 baserunners (26.5 percent), but stolen bases aren't always the catcher's fault in the minor leagues because pitchers often struggle holding runners close. Sanchez did throw out three runners in a game Tuesday against Richmond.
"It feels like I'm back in my college days where I can throw everybody out," he said. "The pitching staff and [Johnson] have put a huge emphasis on holding runners. ... Everything's coming together now with the pitch calling and the offense and the physical things that I do behind the plate."
In every way, Sanchez is well ahead of where he was as a first-year Double-A player last season.
"Let's say June 3 last year, I probably feel 10 to 20 times better," he said before adding, "It's been a long road of hard work and a huge learning experience."
The Pirates hoped Sanchez someday would be their catcher of the future when they drafted him so high in 2009, and now he's just one step away from the big leagues.
"He's done everything we've asked him to do here, from a professionalism standpoint, from a pitcher-catcher relationship standpoint," Forbes said. "It's been fun for me to watch it this year because it was such a roller coaster last year here."