Friday, September 1, 2017

Introducing Tony Sanchez

Let's go to the annual Baseball Prospectus from 2015 for the story on Tony Sanchez:
"Good news: Sanchez might eke out a career as a back-up catcher. Bad news: That's about the best-case scenario."

By Eugene Kim on Flickr (Original version) UCinternational Crop) [CC BY 2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
If you didn't hear - and judging by the mass hysteria on social media, you almost certainly did - the Braves traded Brandon Phillips yesterday evening for catcher Tony Sanchez. WOW.net contributor - and second biggest The Office fan at the blog - Stephen Tolbert went over the deal last night with a focus on Phillips and why the Braves got so little in return for a solid performer. Instead of repeating him, I want to look at Sanchez because I'm more into tackling the mundane and boring subjects in baseball. Speaking of which, did you see my Denny Neagle trade retrospective the other day? No? Oh...

Sanchez was drafted with the fourth overall selection of the 2009 draft out of Boston College but was born and raised in Miami. I was first introduced to Sanchez a few months later. After stays in the New York-Penn League and South Atlantic League, Sanchez finished up his first summer in pro ball by joining the Lynchburg Hillcats in the Carolina League. The 'Cats already had a future major league backstop in Eric Fryer along with a productive bat in Kris Watts, but Sanchez was the big name and with the 'Cats headed to the playoffs, the Pirates decided to give Sanchez a shot at managing a pitching staff in some important games. They would win the title a few weeks later.

Sanchez was immediately a big prospect, ranking #79 in baseball heading into his first full season by Baseball America. It was an injury-shortened, but solid campaign for Sanchez. Playing for the Pirates' new High-A team in Bradenton, he slashed .314/.416/.454 over 250 PA, though he would look pretty lost in a stint in the Arizona Fall League after the regular season ended. His prospect status began to take a hit from there. In 2011, now in the Eastern League, Sanchez slashed .241/.340/.318, which earned a return to the level to open 2012. He showed moderate improvement before a promotion to Triple-A. Three years after being drafted, Sanchez was already in Triple-A and while he was no longer showing up in Top 100's, there was still some hope he would be the long-term guy for the Pirates.

That, well, didn't happen. From 2013 until the end of 2015, Sanchez went back-and-forth between the Pirates and their top minor league team in Indianapolis. He had a few good runs mixed in, but was hardly noteworthy in the majors with a .259/.303/.378 slash over 155 PA. His longest look came in 2014 when a Russell Martin injury opened up some increased playing time. Sanchez wasn't especially bad, just forgetful, as he hit .267 with no plate recognition (3 BB/28 K in 80 PA).

Since leaving the Pirates, Sanchez struggled through a year of injuries and abysmal offensive production playing for both Buffalo and Sacramento. This year, he was sharing catcher duties with Carlos Perez in Salt Lake, the Angels' top minor league club. In a tremendous environment for hitters, Sanchez was hitting .272/.355/.374. For perspective, each of those marks is below the team average for this season.

Underwhelmed? As am I. As is everyone here at WOW.net. As is, I'm sure, John Coppolella. But as Stephen rightfully pointed out, the market was garbage this year for rental bats and the goes double for the market for Phillips, which was especially small with so many teams needing a 2B (and sometimes 3B). Sanchez provides the team some depth with Tyler Flowers on the mend and the Braves unsure if he'll play again this season. And to his credit, Sanchez's defense - his calling card since his BC days - remains very good. He's routinely placed very well in framing stats from Baseball Prospectus and, while he's not known for a big arm behind the plate, he does everything else you want from a catcher - much like Flowers.

Moving forward, this gets a bit murkier for Sanchez. With Kurt Suzuki a free agent, the Braves could bring back Sanchez for competition for next year's roster. The current backup to Suzuki, David Freitas, is basically a poor-man's version of Sanchez, interestingly enough - if there exists a poor man's version of a guy making the major league minimum. Freitas isn't quite as athletic behind the plate and has some of the same issues throwing out runners Sanchez has, but is just as good of a pitch framer and has displayed a similar offensive profile over the last couple of years.

For what it's worth, Sanchez could eclipse, if brought to the majors for little more than a week, one year of service time. If you were curious, Sanchez is also out of options.

To sum up, Sanchez is a capable defender and not much else. That might disappoint fans who wanted more if Phillips was traded. Certainly, I am disappointed, but realistically, my biggest hope was that the Braves would pick up some no-name arm that walks 10 BB/9 at rookie level but has big velocity. Suffice it to say, my expectations were really low in the event Phillips was dealt. Remember that the Braves gave the Reds Andrew McKirahan and a guy who they quickly released for Phillips while also getting the Reds to pay down over 90% of his salary this year. All in all, the Braves did well by Phillips to be open to a deal that would allow him an opportunity to play meaningful baseball. They did well for the team by opening up a spot in the lineup for Johan Camargo and Rio Ruiz. And the Braves did well for future players by finding Phillips a new home rather than cut a productive player simply to open up time for younger ones. Sanchez might not be an interesting pickup, but it's better than nothing.

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