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First-round pick Sanchez makes pro debut

Pirates' Sanchez makes pro debut

When Tony Sanchez got to Boston College, the program was entering just its second season in the ultra-competitive ACC. The Eagles had gone 9-21 in the conference that first season. This season, the final one for the Pirates' first-round selection in the recently completed First-Year Player Draft, Boston College went 14-15 in the conference and went to a Regional for the first time in 42 years.

"It's a tribute to our work ethic up there," said Sanchez, the No. 4 overall pick of the Draft. "We weren't going to feel sorry for ourselves, so we got our work done to get better. We wanted to win, we weren't just complacent, happy to be playing in the ACC. Slowly but surely, we were improving, got to a regional and got better. With more talent coming, who knows how much better they can get."

This tale is relevant to Sanchez and his new environment in one major way. It's exactly the attitude the Pirates have been trying to instill in all of their players throughout the organization. Settling isn't an option and bringing in players like Sanchez, they feel, will help finally break the string of losing seasons at the big league level.

"That's one of the things I told them and I reassured them," Sanchez said. "I'm going to bring the same mentality I had at Boston College to the Pirates."

Now, it might take some time before Sanchez can truly help out in that regard, but he took his first step when he made his professional debut on Saturday for the State College Spikes in the short-season New York-Penn League. He didn't take long to make a first impression, either, entering the game as a defensive replacement then driving in the winning run in the ninth with a single in his second pro at-bat.

"That was pretty cool," Sanchez said. "It felt good. There's no better way to introduce myself to the game."

He was introduced to catching a full game the following day. He went 0-for-3 at the plate, but more importantly, he began the process of learning what it takes to be a professional catcher. First and foremost, that means calling his own game, something he never got to do at Boston College.

"It was a lot better," Sanchez said of the experience. "The game went more smoothly. I can call my own game, I know how to look at hitters, see their patterns, see their swing paths. With more experience, I'll get better. It's a learning process."

That process has already seen Sanchez move around a bit since he signed quickly for a reported $2.5 million bonus. He went down to Bradenton, Fla., and worked out there, before being sent to State College. He won't be with the Spikes long, though. He'll fly on Thursday to Wichita, Kan., for the announcement of the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the top collegiate catcher in the country. He has to be considered a front-runner among the finalists, Chris Henderson of George Mason and J.T. Wise from the University of Oklahoma.

After that, he'll head to full-season ball, joining the West Virginia Power for the second half of the South Atlantic League season. It's nothing the Pirates think Sanchez can't handle easily.

"Tony Sanchez has not disappointed in his first impressions with everyone -- in Bradenton, in State College, and I'm sure he'll get a similar response in West Virginia," Pirates farm director Kyle Stark said. "Everyone raves about the person: the character, the energy, the passion, the commitment, the drive and how genuine it is. Those attributes are going to allow him to make an easier adjustment to professional baseball and give you more confidence in betting on the person to reach his potential."

The guy can play the game a little bit, too. There are those who feel his defensive skill-set is Major League ready. He's worked hard on his conditioning and his offensive game improved markedly this year, a big reason why his name rose on Draft boards all spring.

"The defense is obviously impressive, and he has shown the ingredients to hit," Stark said. "Since his focus has been on his defense, as it should, we feel like we can help develop the offensive approach some more since he has the tools."

Sanchez entered pro ball with his eyes wide open, understanding that many saw his selection at No. 4 overall as a bit of a reach. He doesn't seem the type to need extra motivation, nor is he one to try to do too much to justify his selection. But he wants to assure everyone that just like the mind-set he and his fellow Eagles had at BC, he's not going to expect the red-carpet treatment simply because of his Draft status.

"My emotions are still high from Draft day, though it's coming down now," Sanchez said. "I'm getting back into the grind. This is the real world now. I want to get my work done and get myself to where I want to be.

"I'm not going to be happy to just be the No. 4 pick overall. I'm going to work harder than I ever have, not only to be a good big league catcher, but also to help the Pirates win."

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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