Although Francisco Cervelli has received most of the attention in the wake of Russell Martin’s departure to the Toronto Blue Jays earlier this offseason, it has been the man slated as his back-up, Tony Sanchez, who has gotten off to a red-hot start this spring.
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Sanchez, who was drafted with the fourth overall pick of the Pirates back in 2009, is looking to play spoiler and emerge as the new face behind the dish for the club, which is taking aim at its first division title in more than two decades.
So far this spring, he’s done more than enough to challenge Cervelli for the starting job come Opening Day. In seven games, he’s batting .533/.588/.867 – not to mention his home run and five runs batted in. Granted, he has drawn only one walk (as opposed to three strikeouts) – but on-base percentage has never been a strong suit for Sanchez
In 48 career big league contests, the 26-year-old backstop has just a .295 on-base percentage – so although his mark is higher this spring, it’s due almost entirely to the fact that he’s racking up the hits at an alarming rate.
But that’s not what this team needs out of him. It’s not to say that Clint Hurdle wouldn’t appreciate yet-another solid bat in the lineup, but more than anything – either Cervelli or Sanchez will be relied heavily upon in terms of their respective work behind the dish given Martin was one of the best game-callers in the game.
Last year, Sanchez caught just 14 percent of base runners – a far cry from Martin’s career tally of 32 percent – including a 39 percent clip last season for the postseason-bound Pirates. Cervelli, meanwhile, has been much better behind the dish – posting a caught stealing percentage 27 percent.
Granted, there’s so much more that goes into work behind the plate. (I’ll go into this later this week). That being said, veteran right-hander A.J. Burnett says Cervelli is a viable option behind the plate, as he noted to the Post-Gazette earlier this offseason.
"“I think he’s a little stronger pickup than a lot of people are expecting,” said Burnett, who played with Cervelli in New York. “He’s got a chance to play every day and he hasn’t had that chance.”"
While Cervelli carries a .111./.385/.111 line into Tuesday’s contest, it looks like – at long last – Sanchez is poised to steal the starting job he has long coveted in Pittsburgh. The good news for Pirates fans? This tandem should be more than enough to make the loss of Martin manageable as the Bucs take aim at the top of the NL Central in 2015.