CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The Pirates reduced their camp size by four on Saturday morning as the club made its first round of Spring Training cuts. The players reassigned to Minor League camp -- a group that includes Tony Sanchez, Eric Fryer, Cesar Valdez and Donnie Veal -- had already been tabbed to begin the season in the Minors.
The biggest name in the bunch is Sanchez, who is slated to begin the year in Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Sanchez spent the last four weeks trailing Chris Snyder and Ryan Doumit as he tried to soak up as much as he could in his second big league Spring Training.
"He used his eyes very well. He used his ears very well while he was here," manager Clint Hurdle said. "That was as important as anything for me. There is nothing you can't like about the kid."
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The Pirates made Sanchez part of this first wave of cuts so he could begin getting consistent playing time to prepare for the season. Outside of playing in the Pirates' exhibition against a local community college, Sanchez got just two at-bats in the first week of spring games. He went 1-for-2 with a double and strikeout on Friday.
"This was an opportunity for him to get to experience a Major League clubhouse environment," Hurdle said. "As we put this new group together, we wanted him in here for a few weeks to embrace him, to encourage him on the heels of last season."
Fryer, like Sanchez, played in Class A last season, but also missed a chunk of time due to injury. Fryer could begin the year back with the Bradenton club or move to Altoona to be Sanchez's backup.
As Veal moves to Minor League camp, he will continue working through his rehab program. Veal wasn't expected to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery by the start of the season, though the Pirates aren't ruling out a May or June return for the left-hander.
Veal is throwing off the mound and can participate in fielding drills. Still, he is likely to stay in Bradenton when camp breaks to participate in extended spring camp.
"I told Donnie as he walked out: 'We'll leave the light on for you,'" Hurdle said. "I definitely look forward to seeing him and getting him back on the mound."
The Pirates are still having discussions about whether Valdez is best suited for a starting or relieving role, though Hurdle said he will likely be used as a starter initially. Valdez, who was acquired when the Pirates traded Zach Duke to Arizona, appears headed for Triple-A Indianapolis.
In two Grapefruit League appearances, Valdez allowed two hits and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings.
"He has shown that he can get swings and misses in Spring Training games," Hurdle said. "But we want to see the velocity get back. We want to see the sinker and fastball."
The Pirates now have 58 players remaining in Major League camp.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.