GLENDALE, Ariz. — Like many backup catchers, Hector Sanchez has a first baseman’s glove in his locker, and he occasionally takes grounders at the corner. Unlike just about every other catcher, Sanchez also travels with a glove made for middle infielders.
“The outfield glove is coming soon,” he said. “It’s on the way.”
Sanchez has as much fun during batting practice as any player, often jumping in line for a few grounders at second or short or shagging fly balls in the outfield. He says the routine is “50 percent about working on footwork and keeping your body moving” during workouts, but admits “the other 50 percent is about having fun.” It’s no surprise then that Sanchez, who started one game at first base last season, claims he could pull a Will Ferrell and play all nine positions in a game.
“Believe it!” he said, smiling wide. “I can play everywhere.”
Most in the Giants clubhouse actually did play everywhere as they learned the game, pulling a Ferrell because that’s simply what little leaguers do before the cream rises to the top and standouts are put on the mound, at shortstop, or behind the plate. Andrew Susac, the man competing with Sanchez to back up Buster Posey, played shortstop until he was 14 and saw time at third and first when he was in college. He was a pitcher in high school, too, and if Susac had Ferrell’s pull for a day, that’s the position he would play.
“Pitchers, hands down, have the best life in baseball,” he said. “You throw every five days and make a lot of money. I could be a reliever coming out of the ‘pen. I wouldn’t say I can throw that hard. For a catcher I have a strong arm, but I’ll be a short-armer on the mound. Maybe 90 (mph)? I’ll say 90."
Sanchez and Susac are vying to back up a guy who actually has played all nine positions in a game. Posey did it at Florida State in 2008, but he saw little action, getting just a lone putout at first base. Posey was also a pitcher for the Seminoles while he developed as a catcher, and he struck out two in the top of the seventh on his nine-position day before sliding over to right field for the final out. Posey became the fourth Seminole to play all nine positions in one game, but if another current Giant had gotten his way a few years ago, Posey wouldn’t be the only guy in his current clubhouse to have done it.
“I really think I can do it,” first baseman Brandon Belt said. “I’ve wanted to do that, I actually asked (in high school) if I could. It was a no-go.”
Belt has played left field and right in the Majors and was such a good prep pitching prospect in Texas that Susac said his father — who lives near Sacramento but paid attention to top national prospects — once told his son about Belt’s potential. Here’s the thing, though, Brandon: You’re left-handed …
“I played shortstop until I was 14,” he pointed out. “I just had a good arm and nobody was really that fast. The other tough one would be catcher, but I don’t see why you can’t have a left-handed catcher.”
As much as it might pain Belt to hear this, it’s the other Brandon who was mentioned most often in an informal poll of the clubhouse on Will Ferrell Day in the desert. Ferrell is playing for 10 teams in five games Thursday in a joint project between MLB, Funny or Die and HBO that will help organizations that fight cancer. He is scheduled to “catch” part of the fifth inning for the Giants, but the plan is for the actor to be behind the plate for an intentional walk. Brandon Crawford didn’t make the trip to Glendale, but several teammates mentioned him as the best bet to play all nine — aside from Posey, who has done it already.
“I think Craw has the athletic ability to do everything,” second baseman Joe Panik said. “I’ve seen him make some spectacular plays so I know with the outfield and infield stuff, he’s got it covered. As a catcher, I don’t know about his blocking skills, but I know he can pick it.”
Second baseman Brandon Hicks, who played an inning in left field last season and was the Giants’ emergency catcher, mentioned Sanchez and Jean Machi (known for being shockingly athletic for his size and position) but settled on Crawford.
“He’d have to hide his hair under the mask, though,” Hicks said. “I don’t know if he would like that.”
Crawford actually has experience behind the plate, but it came in little league. He never played much outfield growing up and hasn’t ever played first, but he was a hard-throwing pitcher at UCLA.
“It’d be tough, definitely,” Crawford said of the feat. “Especially catcher.”
When asked to pick his own candidate, Crawford mentioned Matt Duffy — “I feel like it has to be a middle infielder,” he said — and then called left fielder Nori Aoki over and asked him if he could catch.
Aoki’s translator, Kosuke Inaji, said Aoki feels he could pitch, “but he doesn’t know if he could get anyone out.” Panik feels the same way.
“If I had any talent, I’d love to be a pitcher — a closer, a guy with a big arm coming in at the end of the game with the game on the line,” he said, his eyes lighting up.
Panik, who was drafted as a shortstop, pitched until his junior year of high school and also played outfield as a youngster. He would seem to be a decent candidate for the Ferrell, having played third base and first base (when two guys got hurt) in college. Except …
“I don’t catch,” he said. “Catchers are a special breed."
So, if most position players secretly would like to pitch, what would the pitchers do? Ryan Vogelsong played third base at Kutztown University but said he would want to play first if he couldn’t pitch.
“You get to touch the ball more,” he said. “Other than pitcher and catcher, first base touches the ball more than anybody else.”
Vogelsong said he did play just about every position growing up, before his big arm pushed him toward the mound. Sometimes, however, your arm pushes you away from the mound.
“I was a pitcher when I was younger, but I gave up two homers and I didn’t want to pitch anymore,” Sanchez said. “I was 11 years old and I threw a fastball in to a guy and he hit a homer. So the next time he came up, I went with a fastball outside and he hit a homer. I told my dad, I don’t want to pitch anymore.”
A minute later, Sanchez adds that he also got taken deep by fellow Maracay, Venezuela native Jesus Aguilar, who made the big leagues with the Indians last season. Wait, how many homers was young Sanchez giving up to 11-year-olds?
“A lot, bro. A lot,” he said, laughing. “That’s why I decided not to be a pitcher.”