Bucs pass on arms, snag top catcher
Fourth-overall pick of BC's Sanchez frees up options later
ATLANTA -- General manager Neal Huntington acknowledged that it might not be the most popular pick, but that in selecting Boston College catcher Tony Sanchez with the No. 4 overall pick in the First-Year Player Draft on Tuesday, the Pirates believe they acquired the best available college position player and have set themselves up to make a splash in later rounds.
Only college right-hander Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Dustin Ackley were listed higher than Sanchez on the Pirates' Draft board. And when Strasburg went to the Nationals as the overall No. 1 pick and Ackley was then grabbed by the Mariners at No. 2, Sanchez fell to Pittsburgh.
"I could barely breathe watching TV, I was so nervous," Sanchez said from his parent's home in Miami. "It's an unbelievable feeling for me and my family and for everybody involved. I'm so fortunate to be picked at that spot."
Sanchez, 21, hit .346 with 14 homers, 19 doubles, 63 runs scored and 51 RBIs in 58 games with the Eagles this year. The 63 runs scored set a Boston College record, while his 14 home runs were third-most in a single season.
Despite the numbers and Sanchez's highly regarded defensive abilities, the selection was a bit unconventional. In most pre-Draft rankings, Sanchez had been listed as the best catcher available, but also as a likely late first-round or supplemental pick.
Huntington was among those who saw Sanchez play this spring, and he and scouting director Greg Smith recently met with him over dinner. While the Pirates passed on a number of promising pitchers to nab Sanchez, their thought process in selecting the catcher with that first pick seems to be part of a larger plan.
"We got the top-rated player on the board when it was our turn to pick," Huntington said. "Tony was one of the best two position players from our standpoint, and we felt that he was the best catcher available in the Draft with upside to the bat. In our minds, Tony Sanchez is an outstanding pick."
According to one baseball source, Pittsburgh is believed to already have reached an agreement with Sanchez that would pay him a signing bonus of approximately $2.25-2.3 million. That figure would fall under "slot," Major League Baseball's recommended signing bonus for first-round picks. And with a deal in place now, the Pirates can get Sanchez in their system quickly, as desired.
Asked if he already had a handshake-deal in place with the Pirates, Sanchez answered: "Yeah, absolutely." When asked to go into further detail, he paused: "I'm not really too sure on that. That's what I have [an agent] for. I'm just out here to play ball."
Huntington would not confirm that an agreement had already been reached.
"We've had conversations with a multitude of players around our pick to have a good feel of what the parameters would be," Huntington said. "But at this time, we have a good feel that we can get something done, but there is nothing in place."
Huntington said that Sanchez would be ready to start at low Class A West Virginia if the organization is able to get him signed quickly. The deadline for signing drafted players is Aug. 17. Sanchez shares the same urgency to get signed and get playing.
"I want to get out there and get playing as soon as I can," Sanchez said. "The quicker that I get out there, the better."
By not spending an excessive amount on their first-round selection, the Bucs are now expected to be increasingly aggressive in the later Draft rounds, especially in grabbing pitching talent. Much like they did last year, look for the Pirates to draft high-ceiling high school players who dropped into later rounds because of commitments to play in college. With significant money available, Pittsburgh can then offer substantial bonuses to try and convince such players to forgo those commitments and sign with the organization.
"We put together a Draft strategy and a process that is going to allow us to best allocate the tremendous resources that [owner] Bob Nutting has given the organization," Huntington said. "This Draft is going to be judged on 50 picks and the quality of those 50 picks.
"This was not a Draft, outside of the first [two] picks, to spend a huge chunk of our budget on one player. It's something that's going to be spread over multiple players. We have a chance to flood our system with quality prospects, and that's something we're very excited about."
Though the Pirates hope to maximize their Draft return with all the dollars they will have to allot to players in subsequent rounds, that's not to say that they don't also believe in Sanchez's potential to be an impact Major League catcher.
Defense has been Sanchez's calling card through his collegiate career, though the Pirates, scouting team is confident that there is more offensive potential to draw out.
"The bat is a question," Huntington said. "We like the strength. We like the bat speed. We like the approach. He has strength and power to drive the ball gap-to-gap. And as he matures, we see the power coming."
Sanchez, born Jorge Anthony Sanchez, has been on the Pirates' radar since Draft meetings were held back in January and certainly helped increase his stock with the amount of work he put in over the last two years to get into shape.
He employed the now-famous Subway diet -- eating a turkey and tuna sandwich with lettuce, onions and honey mustard on wheat bread at least five times a week for the past few years -- as he dropped nearly 30 pounds during college. The now 6-foot-1, 220 pound catcher also rededicated himself to the workroom.
"If it wasn't for that, and the fact that I flipped the switch in the gym and really started telling myself that I needed to get my body in shape, I wouldn't be here right now," he said.
Sanchez recently ended his career at Boston College, but not before catching all 25 innings in a regional loss to the University of Texas.
Sanchez finished his three-year collegiate career with a .317 batting average, 49 doubles, 24 home runs and 124 RBIs in 161 games. He was named as one of three finalists for the 2009 Coleman Company -- Johnny Bench Award, which is presented annually to the top college catcher. He was also recently named to both the All-ACC First Team and the Louisville Slugger All-America Third Team.
"I flew under the radar a lot in high school," Sanchez said. "A lot of people weren't attracted to my body. They didn't know my work ethic. I've always been an underdog.
"At BC, we were a losing program," he continued. "Me and my teammates took a mentality that we wanted to turn that around. I hope to do the same thing getting into the system with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I want to help turn that franchise into a winning franchise."
Compensation round A, Victor Black, RHP, Dallas Baptist University: Black, a 41st-round pick back in 2006, remedied some of his control problems this season and finished 6-3 with a 3.80 ERA, 91 strikeouts and 36 walks in 85 innings. His fastball can hit 95-96 mph, and he possesses the ability to develop a plus slider and changeup as well.
2nd round, Brooks Pounders, RHP, Temecula Valley High School: Pounders, who has already verbally committed to playing for the University of Southern California next year, has four pitches that he can throw for strikes, though his fastball velocity is typically in the 87-90 mph range. He is a command guy, though he is a big-body pitcher that will have to work on maintaining his body.
3rd round, Evan Chambers, CF, Hillsborough Community College: A 5-foot-9 outfielder from Lakeland, Fla., Chambers, 20, hit .324 with 11 homers, 39 RBIs and 27 stolen bases in 49 games this season. He was a 19th-round pick by the Rockies in 2007, but opted not to sign.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.