BRADENTON, Fla. - Healed from a broken jaw to start 2011, Tony Sanchez suffered a bruised ego on and off the field during his first season in Double-A, then finished the year with yet another broken jaw.
Rather than lament and forget about his disappointing past year, the charismatic and always enthusiastic Sanchez embraces the lessons he learned and how they can help him moving forward.
"When you talk about growing, you have to incorporate off-the-field antics and stuff like that," the Curve catcher said. "I learned those lessons. Those are quality lessons to learn at the lower stages of minor league baseball."
His most recent lesson occurred Oct. 17 outside of a bar in Tampa. Sanchez had gotten into an argument with someone inside the bar, then had the man follow him outside.
"I turned around and got hit as I was walking to my car," Sanchez said. "That first hit broke the jaw again, and I knew it right then and there."
Sanchez called the ordeal a matter of "just being at the wrong place at the wrong time."
"There's no excuses," he added. "That happened, and I put myself in that situation and there's no excuse for that."
Sanchez, who's fully recovered now, said his jaw was broken in the same place as when he was hit by a pitch in the face June 22, 2010 while playing for Bradenton.
When the bar incident occurred, Sanchez immediately worried about how the Pirates would react.
"The first thing that came to my mind was the Pirates," said.
Still, the 23-year-old added, "Nobody was more disappointed than I was that I put myself in that situation."
Sanchez didn't just suffer a broken jaw with that punch. He suffered another blow to his reputation.
At this time last year, no one questioned his character. He had been the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft, a prized prospect, and was considered a model citizen.
Then came the Twitter incidents early last season with the Curve.
Following a loss at Harrisburg on May 9, Sanchez tweeted, "Sometimes the umpires just decide to blow a game. Never seen a winning teams crowd go silent as the game winning run crosses the plate."
Blasting the umpires didn't go over well with the Pirates or anyone else, and Sanchez caught a lot of heat for his tweet, even from national baseball analyst Peter Gammons.
Instead of learning his lesson, a week later Sanchez appeared to take a jab at Altoona on Twitter. He posted a picture of a woman wearing a thong and letting her child throw fireworks at a gas station, along with the words, "Only in Altoona."
Sanchez later said he wasn't trying to take a shot at Altoona, but his judgment once again came into question. The Pirates suspended him for three games, and he quit Twitter, posting, "see ya twitter. thanks to the fans for their support and continued support. Pittsburgh is the only goal and twitter is standing in my way."
The Twitter problems and offseason bar fight could lead some people to believe Sanchez is a bit of a loose cannon.
"For people who don't know who I am, I definitely worry that they're going to question my character," he said. "But for everybody here with the Pirates and everybody I've talked to, everybody who knows who I am, I highly doubt that they're questioning who I am. They know how I go about my business and know what I do behind closed doors.
"It's only a matter of time before I can shake the label that some people have placed on me."
Being a model citizen from now on will help in that regard, and this spring Sanchez has been just that.
"I watched him go through this spring training," Curve manager P.J. Forbes said. "[Catching instructor] Tom Prince has been very excited about his work and how he's handled himself."
The off-the-field issues can be overlooked to a degree if a player excels on the field. Sanchez's problems in 2011 were made worse because, for the first time in his life, he was struggling with the game of baseball.
He hit .299 through May 2 but wasn't showing any power. He had only one home run at that point, no triples and didn't hit his first double until his 20th game.
The power problems continued the remainder of the season, and Sanchez's average steadily dropped into the .240 range. It remained there the rest of the year, and he finished at .241 with five homers, 14 doubles, one triple, 44 RBIs and a .658 OPS in 118 games.
"One thing that I learned last year from struggling was that I'm going to have to be more patient than I was because pitchers are going to give me pitches to swing at but not give me pitches to drive," Sanchez said. "That's the kind of thing that you have to learn when you get into the higher levels.
"You're going to get nibblers and guys that throw sinkers and cutters, and you're going to be able to put the bat on it. But you're not going to be able to drive it. That was my biggest downfall last year."
Known as an excellent defensive catcher, Sanchez also struggled behind the plate and finished with 18 errors.
Asked what Sanchez learned the most last year, Forbes replied, "Humility."
"I think a dose of reality with performance," the manager added. "And being the professional off the field and taking care of that is as important as taking care of it on the field."
Sanchez is still considered a very good prospect. He's rated as the Pirates' No. 7 prospect by Baseball America, the highest of any member of the Curve, and Forbes doesn't believe the catcher fell out of favor in the organization.
The rough season did set Sanchez back a bit in his career, however.
"I think he lost his opportunity to start at Triple-A this year, and I think that smacked him in the mouth. I hope it did," Forbes said.
"If you look at our Triple-A situation right now, if he had gone out and performed, he and [Eric] Fryer would probably be 1-2 up there. But [he took] a little baby step backwards that we really feel like we've cleaned up."
Despite recovering from a broken jaw, Sanchez was able to continue his offseason workouts and even took batting practice with his mouth wired shut.
He played last season at 208 pounds and has bulked up to 225. He believes the extra muscle, along with better pitch selection, will help him drive the ball more and produce more extra-base hits this season.
"I'm at the best position I could be in right now," Sanchez said. "I'm the strongest I've been in my entire life. My defense feels great, and I feel extremely comfortable back there. My arm feels strong, and every time I throw the ball to second base I feel great."
He's also wiser now about potential problems off the field and doesn't plan to put himself in precarious situations.
"I learned that any time I'm out with anybody, it's keep to yourself and stay away from everybody," he said.
He ultimately will be judged by his performance on the field, as all players are, but given what he's been through in the past year, Sanchez knows how he acts off the field will be monitored closely, too.
"This year I'm going into it with the mindset that I've got to be as good of a person off the field as I am on the field," he said.