There was a time when Tony Sanchez, prized catching prospect and the future of the Pirates, was drinking blended ravioli through a straw. Or maybe he was technically eating it.
Sanchez would like to forget that month or so of his life, which interrupted his first full season in the Minors. A Boston College product, Sanchez was the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Draft, taken not long after the highly touted Stephen Strasburg. And while Strasburg was the buzz of the Majors this summer, Sanchez was in Brandenton, Fla., playing video games and trying not to think about that pain in his mouth.
The Miami native had his jaw broken after taking a pitch to the face with the Class A Advanced Bradenton Marauders. He eventually recovered and had a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League. Now, putting aside time from his holiday shopping duties, he talked about it all with MiLB.com.
MiLB.com:You were the fourth overall pick in the 2009 Draft, which has got to be an amazing feeling. The Pirates gave you a $2.5 million bonus -- that's a dream for every kid in America -- put into words what that experience felt like.
Sanchez: It's something you never expect to happen to yourself. I've always been an under-the-radar player, and to have the opportunity to be the fourth overall pick is something no one will every take away from me. it's something I cherish and keep inside, and it helps me get through tough times.
The funny thing about the bonus -- I went to bed the night of the Draft, and my checking account said I had $296. It was $120,000 the next morning. The first thing I did was I went to the mall and I was buying shoes, little things. I had a bunch of bags, shoes, caps, watches, and I started getting anxiety -- I just spent so much money. It was bothering me. And I go home and check my account, it looked exactly the same. I'm thinking, this is bad.
MiLB.com: What was your first day like with the Spikes as a Minor Leaguer?
Sanchez: Nerve-racking. It was surprisingly nerve-racking. We were in Williamsport playing [the Crosscutters], and there were 2,000 people in the stands, and that's just as many as a Boston College game. It was my first coach, and he threw me behind the dish the last few innings, and I was like, 'Oh, God, what if I come in and mess this game up?' I was kinda nervous. We were tied, and in my second at-bat -- man on second, two outs, tie game -- I got a base hit and scored the go-ahead run, so that was pretty good. Even though it was [Class A Short-Season], I was still pretty pumped.
MiLB.com: You're arguably the Pirates' top prospect at this point. Do you ever feel that pressure, that sense that there are a ton of fans out there waiting and watching you?
Sanchez: Pressure -- the more you think about it, the more it'll build up. Everything comes with hard work and that's the reason why some might say I am the top prospect, and others might say someone else is the top prospect. But as long as you have the right mindset, everything will fall into place. But I try not to think about it; it's a wonderful title to have, especially with the guys who are in our system. But you take it for what it is.
MiLB.com: You spent the 2008 summer in the Cape Cod League, which seems like it would be paradise for an aspiring baseball player. What was it like living on the Cape and the Boston area? Lots of beaches and seafood?
Sanchez: Boston was a great three years of my life, it was awesome. The Cape was easily the most important summer of my life as far getting my name on the map and showing people I could swing a wood bat against the best in college. My summer host family was really good to me -- they made it a lot easier, and that's part of the reason I had success. I was so comfortable where I was living, I was able to play well out there. I've tried to compare the Arizona Fall League to that, but the fall league is much more advanced. You're going out there playing against the best guys in college, and if you have success, you'll get noticed. I had a chance, and I'm grateful.
MiLB.com: You got hit in the head twice pretty badly this year, and I'm sure people have asked you about that a million times -- concussion-like symptoms the first time and a fractured jaw, which was wired shut, the second time. Let me first ask: you reportedly threw Chef Boyardee and Campbell's Chunky Soup into a blender to eat during that time. How'd it taste?
Sanchez: I'm going to go out on the limb saying that breaking your jaw is in the top three worst injures in sports, because for a month straight, when you have to throw Chef Boyardee into a blender for both lunch and dinner, everyday, for a month, you'll realize how bad that injury is. It was so bad, I was so depressed at times. I would watch my roommate, Brock Holt, eat whatever he wanted, and I would have to carry it to him because he was on crutches. It was not something I would wish on my worst enemy. I went from macaroni and cheese to spaghetti and meatballs to ravioli, mini ravioli, Beefaroni, rigatoni...
MiLB.com: Pirates GM Neal Huntington said at the time that you had "no fear" and didn't "back off" from the plate. Did that experience change your approach at all?
Sanchez: No, not really. When I got to Arizona for my first taste of action after that injury, I was surprised how comfortable I was. There was maybe, out of the the 75 ABs, maybe 10 or less ABs where that was in my mind, and I didn't trust the guy on the mound. As much as you tell yourself, if it's in your mind, you're in bad shape. It did hold me back for a few ABs, but it's gonna be like that regardless when you're facing someone throwing 95-100 mph, that's not the best group of arms to face. But I know what I'm in for now -- it'll only get better.
MiLB.com: I read you had a 4.0 GPA in high school. First, how'd you pull that off, and second, what was your experience in high school like, being a team captain and managing academics?
Sanchez: That perfect 4.0 is a little bit of a typo. In high school, we had honors and AP classes that give your GPA a little extra weight -- I had like a 3.5 unweighted and a 4.0 weighted. But I always put down a 4.0 'cause it looks better, and I knew it would help for colleges. So that was my weighted.
In high school, down in Miami, high school baseball is so competitive down here. There's so many good players, it seems like you're always out there playing quality guys. It's been a while, but I had so much fun out there. Our coaches spoiled us with metal bats, home and away catcher's gear; I was treated pretty well. And to be able to lead my team to a state tournament, it was a great experience, and I had a lot of fun.
MiLB.com: You were roommates this past year with Holt, another high Draft pick and said in July you played a ton of video games with him. Which games? Who's better? Have you created yourself in a baseball game yet?
Sanchez: Oh yeah, I created myself all the time in high school. When the best game ever came out, NCAA MVP, that was the first game I ever created myself on Boston College's roster. Me and my buddies had a lot of fun.
Brock and I spent our six-to-eight weeks depressed with injuries, but we played FIFA soccer -- he and I would get into it. I'm not a lot better than him, but I am better than him. He and I get along like you've never seen before -- we're good friends, and the only times we'd get into it was that game. We would hate each other for a good hour after. We would not talk to each other. If it wasn't for FIFA, we'd go insane.
MiLB.com: We sort of touched on this before, but what kind of cool stuff did you buy after signing with Pittsburgh and getting that big bonus?
Sanchez: I tried not to go too crazy -- you hear stories about guys going nuts and not having anything for the future. But, I bought my dream car, the car I wanted since I was 10, and you can ask my mom about that. I've always wanted a Range Rover, always wanted one. Black with black rims, real classy look. I really love that thing -- it's my baby.
And I paid my mom's debt, bills that I mostly accumulated over the years. She drives an Infinity now, nothing too crazy, a nice little Mommy-mobile for her. My dad fixed his car, paid some bills. Everything else is in investments. But it's nice to go to the mall and see shoes or jeans and be able to buy that and not have it hurt. That's about it.
MiLB.com: You're a Miami guy. How pumped were you when LeBron picked the Heat?
Sanchez: I would probably say with LeBron signing, I jumped on the Heat bandwagon quicker than anyone I know. I jumped on them in '06 when they won it, and then I went to Boston and fell in love with the Celtics, their big three out there. And then I come back, and now I'm a Heat fan again. It's awesome now to see those guys clicking these days -- they're playing a lot better, so they're a lot of fun to watch.