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Biertempfel: Pirates' Sanchez admits 'I dug my own grave'

| Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016, 10:06 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Tony Sanchez hit .259 in 51 games over parts of three seasons for the Pirates. Once a highly touted prospect, his defense behind the plate became suspect. Sanchez, who was released Wednesday, said he is anxious to start anew with another organization.

When Tony Sanchez's cell phone buzzed Wednesday, the caller ID showed Pirates general manager Neal Huntington was on the line.

“Right away, I knew what he was calling about,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez had been designated for assignment to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for newly acquired reliever Neftali Feliz.

When the Pirates drafted Sanchez with the fourth overall pick in 2009, he was projected to take over someday as their everyday catcher. Instead, he is unemployed after appearing in just 51 games in the majors.

“I had a feeling that was the route the Pirates were going to take,” Sanchez said from his home in Miami.

He doesn't blame Huntington.

“I dug my own grave,” Sanchez said. “When I started having throwing issues, I knew they lost trust in me. And if you can't trust your catcher, you can't play him.”

Sanchez always had solid defensive skills as a standout at Boston College. Not long after he started playing pro ball at Low-A West Virginia, however, Sanchez got the yips.

“My first year in the minors, yeah, I felt a lot of pressure being a first-round pick,” Sanchez said. “I tried to ignore it. I did my best. But it was always there.”

Sanchez made 18 errors in 2011 at Double-A Altoona, then made 14 in his first season at Triple-A Indianapolis. The problems continued during his cameos in the majors.

Last season, Sanchez made 12 errors in 70 games at Indy, where he split time with Elias Diaz. By midseason, Diaz had surpassed Sanchez on the depth chart. It was Diaz, not Sanchez, who got a September call-up.

Sanchez was not surprised by Huntington's call, but he's also not ready to give up on baseball.

“I'm still confident in my ability, and I'm optimistic I'll be wearing some team's colors when spring training starts,” he said. “It's going to be very weird. I know everyone with the Pirates on a first-name basis. Now I've got to start all over. The good thing about that is, I get a clean slate. It's what I need.”

'Cutch legging it out

Andrew McCutchen turned 29 on Oct. 10, three days after the Pirates were bounced by the Chicago Cubs in the National League wild-card game. He spent a good portion of this offseason traveling, including making stops in Mexico and Europe, but knows he can't slack on his conditioning.

“Keeping the legs in shape, that's the big thing for me now,” McCutchen said.

In previous years, McCutchen would start to ramp up his leg work about a month before the start of spring training. Last season, though, he was dogged by a sore knee during camp and at times during the season.

“Now it's a little different,” McCutchen said with a grin. “You put the weight on a little easier now than before. The legs can get out of shape really quick. A lot of the weight goes to the legs for me. I'm not taking off any time. It's running. It's biking. It's doing things to keep those legs in shape ... so I'm ready to go and not getting those aches and pains the first couple of weeks.”

Brault not intimidated

Pitcher Steven Brault is just the 15th pro player to come out of Regis, a Jesuit college in Denver with fewer than 15,000 students. He wants to be the school's first big leaguer.

“I'm confident in my ability,” Brault said. “I came from a small school and didn't play against the kind of competition other guys did. I just want to keep proving that it's not a fluke.”

Brault, 23, was impressive enough last year to earn a non-roster invite to Pirates spring training camp and might begin the season with Triple-A Indianapolis. Management sees him as a fast riser, so Brault might end up getting a taste of the majors in September.

Although the numbers suggest otherwise, Brault had an awkward first season in the Pirates' farm system.

Brault was acquired a year ago as part of the deal that sent outfielder Travis Snider to the Baltimore Orioles. Brault flourished — he went 4-1 with a 3.02 ERA at High-A Bradenton and 9-3 with a 2.00 ERA at Double-A Altoona — but admitted it wasn't an easy adjustment.

“At first, it was difficult and strange,” Brault said. “The Orioles had their way of doing things. Now I'm doing it the Pirates' way. What I learned is there's a reason they brought me here. What I've shown before I can do, I need to keep doing it. I need to be a ‘Pirates guy' while also keeping my own identity.”

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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