2009 Draft Day Spotlight: Tony Sanchez
The powerhouse programs in college athletics were not always so. For many years the Florida Gators were the third best football program in their state much like in basketball, the Duke Blue Devils took a back seat to Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels. But one recruit, one coach, one season can help a program turn the corner.
Thanks to the climate in which they find themselves situated, I am pretty sure that the Boston College baseball program will never enter such college athletics rarefied air but that's ok. For now, after a strong showing in 2009, the program is at least on the map and they have Tony Sanchez to thank. The nation's top ranked amateur catcher has helped give BC baseball unprecedented visibility. They compete in the ACC and given the urban, first-rate education they can offer recruits in a northeast corridor city, maybe they are here to stay.
Sanchez hit .346/.443/.614 this season and watched his professional stock skyrocket. A Miami product who was overlooked as a high school player, he proved the top southeast programs that would not give him a look wrong throughout his collegiate athletic career. On the cusp of professional baseball riches, he set aside a little time on Tuesday night to speak with me about his time at BC, playing 25 innings of baseball and his general outlook as he sets his sites on the next phase of his baseball life.
Patrick: What are you up to these days?
Tony: Well a lot of guys are taking time off but I am not. I need to get prepared. I just got back from a workout with one of my summer ball teammates - took a BP with the wood bat. I fly to Kansas City tomorrow to work out for the Royals. After that I come back to Miami to hang out with family and friends and wait for next Tuesday.
Patrick: What do you like most and what do you like least about this time in your life? I imagine it's a period of great excitement and anticipation but at the same time great uncertainty. How are you feeling?
Tony: Everything is so surreal right now. I am on cloud 9 coming off a good showing for BC baseball in Texas, playing in a game like that in that environment and now with the draft right around the corner...it's surreal. For much of the year my advisers would not tell me what they were hearing from teams around the league - they didn't want me to get a case of draftitis. But now that the season is over and they are opening up and filling me in on what they're hearing and I have to say, it's exciting.
As for the downside, I will miss my BC baseball teammates. I don't like being away from them and I don't like that I won't have the chance to play with them any longer as I head into the Minor Leagues.
Patrick: What made you choose Boston College?
Tony: They were the only school that gave me a shot. Playing in Florida, there is just so much talent down there that it is easy to be overlooked. But when BC called, the opportunity to play in that conference and make an impact immediately. When I visited the school, I fell in love with it.
Patrick: 25 Innings - what was that like?
Tony: First of all, playing in that atmosphere against the #1 team in the country...with a crowd of 7,000 genuine college baseball fans who know the game, it was unbelievable. They were obviously pulling for their hometown team but as the game wore on, they seemed to fall in love with us, too. It was just unbelievable to be a part of.
Patrick: I read your interview with David Laurila at Baseball Prospectus and what struck me is that you definitely are saying all the right things. "My defense comes first, offense is a bonus." Yadier Molina being your favorite player, etc. But you have to know somewhere in the back of your mind that, as long as your defense is steady, pounding the baseball is your ticket to the Big Leagues.
Tony: Definitely. Being a catcher, hitting is your ticket. That's how you skyrocket through the Minors. I will still say that hitting takes a backseat to my defense but I know what I have to do in order to advance.
Patrick: Speaking of hitting, when you look at your college numbers what clearly stands out is that your power numbers have improved dramatically each year. You slugged .425 freshman year, then .517 and finally .614 this past season. What do you attribute that to?
Tony: Hard work. I'm a grinder, man. I have worked out really hard in the Bubble in the off-season, with my coaches and trainers at BC and with the wood bat in the summertime. It has all added up over time to help me become the hitter I now am.
Patrick: What's your biggest developmental opportunity. In what area of the game will you need to improve quickly in order to succeed at the next level?
Tony: Pitch calling. I am looking forward to showing up for Rookie ball and getting in the bullpen with my pitchers, learning their pitches and what their comfortable with, reviewing film with coaches and learning players' patterns.
Patrick: Another level of baseball sophistication?
Tony: That's right, and I am going to have to learn quickly how to mentally adapt my game.
Patrick: Keith Law of ESPN.com has you going 4th overall to the Pittsburgh Pirates in light of a recent visit Pirates management made to Boston. Care to talk about that at all?
Tony: Pittsburgh did come meet. We had a great dinner, they were easy guys to talk to and I really felt that there was a strong connection. I would love to be a Pirate. But as you well know, nobody knows what's going to happen on Draft Day.
Patrick: Ok, let me ask you about some of the guys you've played with and against. Let me start with two guys that graduated from my alma mater, The Roxbury Latin School. Tell me about Chris Kowalski and John Spatola.
Tony: I have lived with Chris for three years and he is one of my best friends in the world. We will be together until we die. We have spent the very best times in our lives together.
John is one of the smartest kids I know. He's got a quick wit, he's a great teammate and he's just an all-around great guy.
Patrick: Ok, now for some other guys around the ACC. I have to start with Dustin Ackley.
Tony: He's a freak. Here is how I explain it. You are better off pitching to him 0-0 than you are 0-2. Because at 0-2 it seems like he's still gonna crush it while 0-0 at least there's a chance he will take the pitch.
Patrick: That's funny, I know there's a little hyperbole in there but point taken. I have never heard that description.
Tony: He's lethal, and the thing is you can't really pitch around him because Kyle Seager is up next. It's "pick your poison" with those guys.
Patrick: How about another Tar Heel, Alex White?
Tony: You're talking about one of the best pitchers in college baseball. He kept it down almost all game against us but elevated when he wanted to, he moved the ball around and kept us off balance. He's just a great pitcher.
Patrick: What are your impressions of Miami shortstop Ryan Jackson?
Tony: I have been watching him since we were 12 and I always knew he was going to be special. Guys like us don't necessarily impress everyone - like me, he has his critics. But he has that intangible that I think will help him become a Big League shortstop. Travel ball, high school ball and most recently in college I have watched him and he has it. His glove alone could probably make him a Big Leaguers and if he hits, sky's the limit.
Patrick: Talk about catching Mike Belfiore (ranked #91 in draft by Law).
Tony: Catching Mike is probably one of the easier jobs I had to do at BC. He's one of those guys that you know he's gonna put the ball whereever you want it and it's going to be firm but easy to receive. He has such good composure on the mound that even if he's got men on base, you know he's going to get out of the inning unscathed because he just has that confidence that it takes to be a dominant pitcher. I really enjoyed catching Belf but he and I are still hoping that we might have a chance to work together again. Right now, we're banking on getting drafted by the same team, which would be unbelievable.
Patrick: Ok thanks a lot, Tony, and best of luck to you on draft day and beyond.
Tony: You got it, man. Thank you.
I asked another standout Boston College athlete, my friend Brooks Orpik's younger brother Andrew Orpik, whether or not he had seen Sanchez around the weight room and if he could observe anything about his work ethic. Andrew just finished up his college hockey career and is now a member of the Buffalo Sabres organization. Here he is on Sanchez:
All sports share a weight room at BC except football, so I saw (Tony) in there a lot. He was always noticeable because for one he was one of the stronger kids in the weight room and he would be in there more than just when he had to be, which doesn't surprise me when seeing how good of a player he is.
If teams think that Sanchez has the skill to make it as a big league catcher, they should enter draft day knowing that the kid will do everything he can to maximize his abilities. His work ethic has been his meal ticket to date, and I don't see any reason why that should change when he becomes a professional ballplayer. He's talented and hungry, and about to make one organization's farm system a whole lot stronger.
Thanks to the Boston College Sports Information Department for the first photo and all of their help. The second photo is courtesy of the Cape Cod Baseball League.