In 14 Days…

Gaby Sanchez (14) days until Opening Day.

After being acquired from Miami in July, Sanchez starts his first full season with the Bucs and appears to be fully healthy.

Three questions about number 14…

1. Can he bounce back offensively? He put together solid seasons in 2010 (4th in NL Rookie of Year voting) and 2011 (National League All-Star), but struggled in a 2012 campaign that included a trip to the minors. While Grapefruit League play is not a good indicator for the regular season, Sanchez has been hitting the ball hard (.310 avg, 3 HR, 1.072 OPS), so it’ll be interesting to see if he can produce at the plate this season.

2. How much will he play? Garrett Jones had a big year in 2012, but still has some difficulties against left-handed pitching. Gaby has strong splits against southpaws, so he could rest Jones at first base. He’ll be useful off the bench as well. Lots of at-bats could help Sanchez, but it’s tough to gauge how much playing time he’ll receive.

3. Will he play any third base? He hasn’t played there in the big leagues, but did get some action at the hot corner in the minors. Gaby has played third at times this spring, and he could be a huge asset to the club if he can back up Pedro Alvarez and play a decent 3B.

Go Bucs

Gaby Sanchez backing up third base could pay dividends for Bucs

At the trade deadline last season, the Pirates added first baseman Gaby Sanchez and subtracted Casey McGehee. In doing so, they lost a player who had the ability to play both corner infield positions, thus relying on Josh Harrison to back up Pedro Alvarez at third.

However, Sanchez has come into camp this spring and shown an intriguing aspect of his game: the ability to play third base.

Sanchez, 29, has not played in a single inning at 3B in over 400 career MLB innings. He did play the hot corner in 148 minor league games, committing 37 errors in 395 defensive chance. The last time he appeared at third was in 2009 with the New Orleans Zephyrs.

He’s been logging some time there thus far in Grapefruit League play, in addition to ripping the cover off the ball. While it’s only spring training, it is great to see Sanchez regaining his strength; it sounds like he is fully healthy and ready to contribute in a big way. It would be huge for the Pirates if Gaby can play decent defense at third, as it would give them a few options to work with.

Sanchez would not only be able to rest Garrett Jones at first, but Alvarez at third as well. The Bucs need to replace Pedro’s power on his days off, and Gaby potentially has the ability to do so. He possesses a better bat than Harrison, which definitely gives him the edge. It would especially help when the Pirates face a left-handed pitcher, as both Sanchez’s and Alvarez’s career splits indicate. Only nine of Pedro’s 50 career home runs have come against southpaws, and his batting average has been much lower against them as well. On the other hand, the right-handed hitting Sanchez has put up a solid .291/.385/.484 line vs. LHP.

The ability to play third base makes Sanchez a much more valuable player. He’s very restricted as a first basemen only, especially since Garrett Jones should see the bulk of playing time there. At third, however, he can rest Pedro Alvarez for scheduled off days, against tough lefties, and sometimes when Pedro is in a slump. Alvarez is still a very streaky hitter who will see his share of slumps, but it’s important to keep that power in the lineup. Sanchez provides that strong bat, so he has the potential to be a formidable backup when called upon. Hopefully he can provide decent defense at 3B and give the Pirates that extra option.

Bucs Bits: Pirates News and Notes 12/19/12

A few days removed from PirateFest weekend, here are some Bucco links:

– Speaking of PirateFest, nearly 17,000 fans flocked to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which set a new record.

– Charlie Wilmoth of Bucs Dugout provides five reasons why the Pirates aren’t likely to get a huge return if they decide to trade Joel Hanrahan.

– More on Hanrahan — Mike Petriello of Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness wonders if the Hammer would be a significant upgrade for the Dodgers.

– Andrew McCutchen is a candidate to be on the cover of MLB 13: The Show. Voting begins on January 7th.

– Jason Shetler of Bucco Nation got an exclusive interview with’s Jonathan Mayo.

– Gaby Sanchez is ready to bounce back in 2013, writes Bob Cohn of the Trib.

Happy Holidays from the Pirates.

– The introduction of the new Sunday alternate uniforms and batting practice cap at Friday’s PirateFest luncheon:

– Neil Walker is 100% and ready to go for 2013:

102 days until Opening Day.

Go Bucs