PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 02:  Tony Sanchez #26 of the Pittsburgh Pirates celebrates after hitting the game-winning RBI single in the 16th inning against the Chicago Cubs during the game at PNC Park April 2, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Pirates defeated the Cubs 4-3 in 16 innings.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tony Sanchez < 500

Let’s begin here: Chris Stewart has a hamstring injury that will likely cause him to open the 2015 season on the disabled list. That means that Sanchez, who’s crushing the ball this spring (10-for-19 with two doubles and two homers) and has apparently shown some improvement defensively, will probably open the season as Francisco Cervelli’s primary backup. I don’t think that Sanchez can do enough to play Stewart off of the roster in the two or three starts he’s likely to get in early April, nor do I think that there’s much chance the Pirates will keep him on the roster after Stewart’s hamstring heals (he’d likely replace Andrew Lambo in that scenario, which would leave the Pirates with pretty much zero left-handed bench presence), but I don’t think that will be the last we see of Sanchez in 2015.

The reality of the Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart catching tandem is this: Stewart has caught more than 67 big league games once in his career, in 2013, while Cervelli has caught more than 49 big league games once, way back in 2010. Their career highs for games caught are 109 and 93, respectively. Cervelli’s often injured, and Stewart is a poor enough hitter that no one likes to play him every day, even with his stellar defense. It’s possible that Stewart will get healthy a week or two into the season, replace Sanchez, and then the Cervelli/Stewart tandem will catch the last 145 games without any incident, but it’d be foolish to expect that.

At some point this year, Sanchez is probably going to play, and it’ll likely be a bigger chance than his 2013/2014 cameos with the Bucs were. There are a few factors at play that are worth considering here. The first is this: as soon as Sanchez is optioned to the minors (again, this is inevitable upon Stewart’s return, given the bench composition at the moment), 2015 becomes his final option year. Cervelli and Stewart both have a year of arbitration after this one, so the Pirates could conceivably maintain this catching tandem for another year before giving the job to Elias Diaz or some other presumed Reese McGuire placeholder (depending on how this year goes for Diaz and how the next couple go for McGuire). The most likely 2016 catching depth chart for the Pirates goes like this: two of Cervelli/Stewart/Sanchez in Pittsburgh, with Diaz in Triple-A, ready to take the call and play regularly upon injury. The odd-man out of the Cervelli/Stewart/Sanchez triangle won’t be a Pirate next year.

In short, 2015 is Sanchez’s year to play himself into a job as a back-up big league catcher with the Pirates. He’s got to do something to differentiate himself, whether that’s through his defense (which likely will not be apparent to us) or with his bat (which has always shown flashes, but never more than sporadically), I don’t know. I do think he’s going to get the chance to do that this year, though, and we’ll just have to see how it goes from there.

<500 is an ongoing series previewing 2015 for each key Pirate in fewer than 500 words

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.

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