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Top prospect stays happy-go-lucky

BRADENTON, Fla. — Sometimes you get the feeling there's nothing that could get Pirates catching prospect Tony Sanchez down.

Having his jaw wired shut for a month this past June and missing the rest of the season after getting hit in the face by a pitch with Single-A Bradenton?

"At least I know I can take a mean punch to the face and get back up," joked Sanchez, who walked off the field unassisted with his jaw fractured in two places after the beaning.

Being among the first four players cut from the Pirates' big league camp Saturday?

"At least they gave us our meal money check before I got cut," he said, laughing.

It seems for Sanchez, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2009, there's always an "at least." Or in translation, "it could always be worse." Even in leaving the comfort of McKechnie Field to return to carrying his own bags and cleaning his own cleats at Pirate City, Sanchez said he looked forward to getting in some games and down to the business of preparing for a big season.

"Starting in (Double-A) Altoona is right where I would love to be," Sanchez said. "Go out, hit well, catch well and get moved up to (Triple-A) Indianapolis halfway through the year. Then, hopefully, get a September call-up (to the Pirates). If the year plays out like that, I'll be satisfied."

Last year, Sanchez was on the fast track when his season ended prematurely. He was batting .314 with 17 doubles, four homers and 35 RBI in 59 games. He was named a 2010 Florida State League midseason All-Star and named to the 2010 MLB Futures Game, a game he didn't play because of the injury.

The long layoff showed when he finally returned to play in the Arizona Fall League. While getting back his defensive feel wasn't too problematic, finding his timing at the plate was another story.

"If you take a week off of hitting, or even a day, it's going to feel a little off," said Sanchez, a 22-year-old Miami native. "Take three or four months off, then get thrown into the Arizona Fall League and try to have success out there, and it's not easy. I learned that real quick."

To Sanchez, every pitch seemed to be traveling 112 miles per hour. Sliders were impossible to hit. And then, there was stepping into the batter's box and not think about the ball connecting with his jawbone instead of the bat.

"There were three or four at-bats where I had no chance of putting the ball in play because every time (the pitcher threw inside) I'd pull back on my heels," said Sanchez, who batted just .206 in 18 games with Mesa, including a .163 average against right-handers. "Literally, I was like, 'Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.' But my hitting is fine now. There are no residual effects."

Sanchez got two at-bats during his time in the big league camp this spring and hit a book-rule double to left off Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Dan Meyer.

Now, manager Clint Hurdle said, it's all about getting Sanchez reps behind the plate.

"The game calling can be more creative and challenging, but also the ability to receive the ball becomes less dynamic because pitchers come more around the plate," Hurdle said. "But it's all about him getting involved catching the games, catching the variety of pitchers."

Photo Galleries

Pirates Spring Training 2011

Pirates Spring Training 2011

Images from Pirates spring training in Bradenton, Florida.

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