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After rise, Sanchez's next step: uncertainty

Anticipating consistency at Triple-A, catcher finds himself moving up depth chart

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Tony Sanchez is slowly getting used to the constant uncertainty that often rules the life of a Major League prospect -- but that does not necessarily make the lifestyle any easier.

Sanchez's role with the team is suddenly up in the air after backup catcher Chris Stewart had surgery on his right knee Wednesday that could keep him out four to six weeks. Sanchez had been slated to start the season in an everyday role with Triple-A Indianapolis, but the Pirates could now be forced to keep him in the big leagues until Stewart returns.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it or going over the different scenarios in my head," Sanchez said. "But that's all part of it. That's pro baseball. And the position that I'm in, realistically, I'm probably going to be up and down the entire season, depending on how well I play. So the process is just starting a little earlier this year."

Just a week ago, there did not seem to be any question about where Sanchez would start the season. The Pirates' No. 14 prospect according to was fully prepared to start the season in Indianapolis following the club's offseason acquisition of Stewart. Though Sanchez seemed more than capable in the backup role, the Pirates have made it clear they prefer to let Sanchez continue playing in an everyday role at Triple-A instead of once a week behind Russell Martin.

That plan now seems to be in jeopardy following Stewart's surgery. With Stewart not expected to return until at least the middle of April, the Pirates will most likely need to break camp with Sanchez as the backup catcher, unless they acquire one from the trade market over the next two weeks.

"It's too early for me to tell," manager Clint Hurdle said. "We want to see Chris, we want to work him and see what he's capable of doing, then we'll map out a strategy and go from there. I'm comfortable having Tony on the club, but we'll come up with a timeline for Chris and go from there."

Regardless of Stewart's exact timetable, there is no guarantee that Sanchez will get the call. The possibility remains that the Pirates could make a move to fill the need from the outside, allowing them to stick to their plan of starting Sanchez in the Minors.

"It's not easy, no; it's never easy," Sanchez said. "But I know why they're doing what they're doing. There are reasons behind it, and I know it's for my benefit and they have my best interests in mind. Would I love to sit in the Majors under Russell's guidance the entire year? Of course. But I'd also love to go down there and keep getting better. There are pros and cons to both scenarios."

Sanchez, the fourth overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, had a breakout season of sorts in 2013. After two supbar offensive Minor League seasons from 2011-12, Sanchez hit well enough last year to earn not only a late-season promotion, but a handful of starts during the Pirates' postseason push.

The 25-year-old posted a .288/.368/.504 slash line to go along with 10 home runs, 26 doubles and 42 RBIs over 76 games with Indianapolis. He also hit .233 (14-for-60) with two long balls and five RBIs in his brief 22-game stint with the Pirates.

"In one sense, of course I'd love to be up here in the Majors all season -- who wouldn't?" Sanchez said. "But at the same time, I came into camp this year hoping to build off last year and see if I could put a repeat season together because, truth be told, one season doesn't make you. You need to keep proving yourself."

Sanchez acknowledged it could be difficult at times to keep his mind from wandering not only to where he will be start the season, but how long he will stay in that place, wherever it ends up being.

"You try not to, but yeah, you look at it and say, 'Hey, I'm No. 2 on the depth chart right now,'" Sanchez said. "But the more you think about it, the more it can affect you, so I just go out there and try to play my game. And when it comes down to it, it's really out of my hands, so I've just got to let whatever happens happen."

Paul Casella is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @paul_casella.
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