After throwing 5 2/3 scoreless innings on only 67 pitches on Tuesday at Smith's Ballpark, the first thing Salt Lake Bees starting pitcher Nate Smith did was give credit to catcher Tony Sanchez for calling a great game.
Sanchez was one of several new players on the Bees' opening day roster with big-league experience. The former Boston College standout and first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2009 (fourth overall) is in his ninth professional season and currently sharing the catching duties with Carlos Perez, who started the season in the majors and was sent down on April 21.
Sanchez, 28, signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Angels in November after seven seasons in the Pirates farm system, followed by splitting 2016 between the Blue Jays' Triple-A affiliate (Buffalo) and the Giants' Triple-A affiliate (Sacramento).
"Anytime you go to a new team it's going to be a fresh start," Sanchez said recently. "They don't know what you're capable of. They don't know how you act. They don't really know much about you so you can come into a new [organization] with a clean slate and just — there's no label. No one really knows what to expect from you. You can just play hard, work hard, and show them what you're capable of."
Sanchez had been a top prospect in the Pirates system. He was an MiLB.com organizational all-star in 2012 and 2012 as well as an All-Star Futures Game selection (2010) and an All-Star in the Florida State League (2010), Arizona Fall League (2010) International League (2013).
He made his MLB debut in 2013, and saw some big-league action in 2014 (26 games) and 2015 (three games) before the Pirates released him in January 2016.
Sanchez's main focus since getting released by the Pirates has been to become more consistent behind the plate. He's off to a slow start with the bat this season (.172 average coming into Saturday's game), and thrown out eight of 34 attempt base stealers this season, including one in the second inning on Saturday — something he had struggled with during his time in Pittsburgh.
"Light-years ahead of where I was when I was with Pittsburgh," Sanchez said of his throwing. "The Angels were a really good organization for me to come to because obviously [Angels manager Mike Scioscia] being a catcher and they've got a lot of coaches in the organization that can help me with everything and they like to work. I got a lot of work in during spring training and I felt that coming into this season I was in a good position to have the best success."