2011 Regular Season numbers: .302 average, .338 OBP, .533 slugging, .871 OPS, .369 wOBA, 114 wRC+, 31 runs scored, 11 home runs, 58 RBI (High-A); .261 average, .315 OBP, .340 slugging, .655 OPS, .290 wOBA, 58 wRC+, 15 runs scored, 1 home run, 15 RBI (Triple-A); .258 average, .324 OBP, .646 OPS, .292 wOBA, 83 wRC+, 0 runs scored, 0 home runs, 1 RBI (Majors)
2011 Fall/Winter Season numbers: .339 average, .402 OBP, .548 slugging, .950 OPS, 0.49 BB/K ratio, 29 runs scored, 9 home runs, 39 RBI (Venezuela Winter League).
Why you should know about Sanchez in 2012?
Sanchez probably was the highest riser in the Giants system last year. After being left out of the Top-30 Giants prospects list in Baseball America, he jumped all the way to No. 10 this year after playing in the California League, Pacific Coast League and Majors last season. Sanchez is the no. 3 rated catcher according to most analysts and publications, but Sanchez may be the most Major League-ready out of the catching prospects in the Giants system. With Buster Posey's long-term career at catcher in doubt after his horrendous injury a year ago, and with Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside not very viable backup options behind the plate, it wouldn't be surprising to see Sanchez harness himself a backup backstop position as soon as this season.
What are Sanchez's strengths as a prospect?
Sanchez is coming off a solid, overall season in 2011 and an eye-popping VWL campaign where he hit .330 along with nine home runs. Sanchez profiles very similarly to Pablo Sandoval when Sandoval was a catching prospect in the sense that he doesn't have a ton of power, but he makes good contact at the plate (plus 80 percent contact rate at every level sans his San Jose campaign last year). Furthermore, like Sandoval, while he doesn't draw huge walk rates (he's been around eight percent for his minor league career), he doesn't strike out a whole lot either.
While the power was always a question with Sanchez early in his minor league career, he did post 11 home runs in 212 at-bats in San Jose, which was six more than the total he hit in Augusta in 310 at-bats in 2010. While the power may be a product of the league, Sanchez could be a guy who could hit 10-15 home runs a year with regular playing time (Rob Gordon rated his power as a four-plus). Furthermore, he is only 22 years old, so his power may develop as he gets older in a similar fashion to Sandoval (who was not a highly graded power hitter in the minors).
For the most part, his defense had earned solid, though not spectacular grades. His arm has garnered rave reviews, as Mike Newman noted this about him in his scouting report when Sanchez was manning the backstop as a Green Jacket in 2010:
"In game action, Sanchez beamed a 1.93 to second base to gun down a Sand Gnats baserunner attempting to steal second base which left scouts looking at each other speechless. Between innings, Sanchez continued to display a strong arm and quick feet. His transfer needs a bit of work, but behind Christian Bethancourt, Sanchez had the best pop times I saw all season."
In terms of receiving, Newman noted that Sanchez needed a lot of work in terms of technique (Newman noted that he "tended to stab at the ball"), but reports were much better in 2011, as Baseball America noted that he "blocks the ball well" in their Prospect Handbook for 2012. Gordon noted that he is a bit raw in terms of his receiving and blocking skills, so it may be a matter of just getting more experience behind the plate for Sanchez in terms of improving defensively. While he may not be graded as high defensively as an Andrew Susac, he may turn out better than Tommy Joseph, whose defense improved in 2011, but is still a major question mark for him as a prospect as he moves forward.
Also, there are a lot of intangibles that work greatly in Sanchez's favor. His callup and exposure to the Big Leagues gave him some nice professional experience, and he held his own well, both offensively and defensively, a big plus considering he was playing in the Sally the previous year. Furthermore, Baseball America noted that despite limited English he communicates extremely well with pitchers. When you think about how much is invested in the Giants staff, that kind of report only bodes well in his favor in terms of earning playing time at the next level.
Where might Sanchez struggle?
Sanchez still needs a lot of development as a prospect, and his callup could be more hurtful than beneficial in the long run. We have seen prospects get rushed to the big leagues too soon, and though Sanchez didn't hurt his stock with the Giants, he certainly looked like a guy who needed some work in the minors. While the most likely destination for him to begin 2012 is in Fresno, he could earn a backup position with a good Spring Training (and so far, he's off to a good start). While some would say that Sanchez being a backup justifies his status and development as a prospect, I would also take it (should it happen) with some prudence, mainly because he's going to have limited at-bats, and limited opportunities considering Posey is a premium player at the position. He could be above-average as a Major League backup this year, but with more seasoning in the minors, he could turn out to be a good catcher at the Major League level in the future.
As noted, defensively he has gotten mixed reports, though he has gotten better. The one main concern about Sanchez is his frame, as he is 5-foot, 11 inches but sits at 225 pounds. Newman noted this in his report, hinting that his weight could have affected him defensively in 2010. While the Giants training staff has had success in terms of getting guys into playing shape (Sandoval being the prime example), his weight is going to be a concern as he gets older and moves up the system. If Sanchez can stay in shape, then his future will look bright and undoubtedly, his defensive skills will continue their upward progression. If not, then his stock as well as defense could slip, especially considering how difficult the position is on the body.
Another tool that is a bit of a question mark is Sanchez's power. While the 11 home runs in San Jose are nice, inflated power numbers are typical for prospects in the Cal League (and he didn't touch the 10 mark at any other level, and that included ISO numbers, which are pretty pedestrian when you look beyond San Jose). Because he didn't play in Double-A in 2011, it is hard to gauge how much of Sanchez's power is for real, and how much is just due to a hitter-friendly environment. Sanchez most likely will not be a 20-plus home run hitter in his career. That being said, at this point, just judging from his SJ and VWL numbers, it is plausible that he could hit up to 15 home runs with regular playing time. Then again, he could be a 6-8 home run hitter, as his extra base hit percentage never topped 31 sans his SJ campaign. 2012 should be a good gauge for Giants fans and management to see what kind of power Sanchez will bring to the table as a catching prospect.
Grades on Sanchez's tools:
Hitting for average/contact ability: 15/20 (He has showed a strong ability to make contact in the minors, but he has only hit over .300 in the DSL and High-A ball. Sanchez tends to hit too many ground balls, so that severely drops his value. However, he's not a big whiffer, and if he can continue to hone his approach at the plate, it's plausible to think that he could be a .260-.270 hitter at the next level, which would be good for a catcher.)
Power: 13/20 (I'm selling low on this simply because I think his Cal League stats were a product of power inflation. That being said, I didn't think he'd be more than a single-digit home run, sub-.400 slugging hitter prior to 2011, and the strides he made last year and this Winter in the VWL have me thinking differently. If the power continues to trend upward, then Giants could have a nice little bat with some pop off the bench in 2012.)
Plate approach: 17/20 (Other than his arm, this is probably his best tool set. He has consistently posted good BB/K ratios in the minors and that transitioned in his stint in the Majors. The main reason I believe his power could develop is because his plate approach is already so developed for his age. I don't give him an A-ranking because while it's good, it certainly isn't spectacular by any means. That being said, I think his plate approach will continue to carry him at the plate as he gets more experience in the high minors and majors.)
Speed: 11/20 (He's a catcher and he has zero career stolen bases in the minors. Furthermore, with his size, he may be a bit of a base clogger if he doesn't maintain weight. But like I said, he is a catcher, so we shouldn't expect too much out of this grade.)
Defense: 16/20 (His arm is a plus tool of his. His receiving and blocking still need work. But like his power, they're trending upward and he'll only get better with more and more innings behind the plate.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 18/20 (He gets good reviews for his game-calling and work with pitchers, and his improvement in all areas of his game last season despite being an unheralded prospect going into 2011 certainly bode well for his future. At this moment, my gut tells me he's a better option than Whiteside or Stewart, but as I said before, I am hesitant to rush him because I don't want the Giants to hinder his development.)
Overall Grade: B-
Projection: Utility catcher most likely, but with good chance to be a starting catcher if he continues to impress in 2012. At the very worst, a career backup.
Summary: I like Sanchez a lot. Originally, I graded him as a C+, but I amped it up to a B- because I really think he can be a good starting catcher at the Major League level. He doesn't have to potential or upside of a Posey, Joseph or even Susac, but he should be at least above replacement level, which is a heck of a lot better than what the Giants have gotten or will get out of Stewart or Whiteside. 2012 will be an important year, and while I don't think it's a make or break season by any means (remember he's still only 22 years old), he does need to continue to produce offensively and defensively. Any set backs this year would be a huge blow to his future.