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New offseason workout, advice helps catcher Sanchez rebuild status

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates catcher Tony Sanchez catches during a spring training game in Fort Myers, Fla.

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Sunday, June 9, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
 

INDIANAPOLIS — Two conversations and some core workouts rebuilt Tony Sanchez's prospect status.

Sanchez fell from the No. 46-ranked prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2010, to No. 79 in 2011, to out of out of the top 100 in 2012 and then dropped from the Pirates' top-10 prospect list this spring. His diminished status was tied to a quiet bat. Sanchez hit .241 at Double-A Altoona in 2011. He hit .233 in half a season at Triple-A Indianapolis last season.

There never was any questioning his defensive acumen at catcher or his makeup, but for Sanchez to become a Major League regular, he had to hit. So this offseason he retired his usual workout program and paid $3,000 to train for several weeks at Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami.

It was the conversations and work there that Sanchez cites as the reasons for his offensive turnaround at Indianapolis this season. He entered Sunday batting .300 with a .939 OPS. It was at the complex where Sanchez worked out, observed and spoke with Detroit third baseman and reigning AL triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera and Arizona infielder Martin Prado.

“Miguel is from who I learned to drive the fastball to the opposite field,” Sanchez said. “When he's in the cages, he doesn't want to pull anything. ... (The approach) allows me to stay on fastballs.

“Martin was huge on having less movement pre-pitch, especially in my takes. He was big on when I take, see how little I can move, how soft I can be. So I can realize the ball is out of the zone quicker than last year.”

Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor said if you examined a spray chart of Sanchez's hits this season, you would find a greater number of hits to the right-center field gap.

“He's been driving the ball the other way. To me, that's his strength,” Treanor said. “It's really just letting the ball get a little deeper. Guys have a tendency to want to hit everything out front. You're going to see the ball longer (if you let it travel).”

Sanchez also reshaped his body, becoming stronger thanks to an unorthodox workout regimen at the complex. Balls that were falling short of the warning track are becoming extra-base hits. Sanchez already has seven home runs this season after hitting eight in 2012 and five in 2011.

“They have a really good program with exercise geared toward baseball movement, a lot of things I wouldn't be able to do on my own because I don't have the knowledge,” Sanchez said. “There was a lot of agility training, quickness stuff and core stuff that helps with your swing.”

The added strength has allowed him to use a heavier bat, a 34-inch, 32-once model, a half-once increase.

“It doesn't seem like much, but it makes a difference,” Sanchez said. “Balls in the gap are starting to go over the wall.”

Sanchez also has battled the burden of expectations.

He was the third ACC catcher to be selected in the top five of the draft since 2007. In 2007, the Pirates passed on Matt Wieters to draft Daniel Moskos. Wieters has developed into one of the MLB's best catchers. In 2008, the Pirates passed on Buster Posey to draft Pedro Alvarez. Posey has won an MVP and two World Series titles. In 2009, the Pirates drafted Sanchez fourth overall.

Sanchez has tried not to let the comparisons or the Pirates' decision to draft prep catcher Reese McGuire in the first round Thursday become distractions. Rather, with an improved bat, he's hoping to join Posey and Wieters as two-way impact players in the majors.

“Those are one-in-a-generation talents,” Sanchez said. “That fact I was drafted anywhere near them was surprising to me. ... They are guys who can hit and hit with power and control a pitching staff. I'd give my left leg to be that talented. I can be that talented, but it's a learning process.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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