SAN FRANCISCO -- Though he began this year as a non-roster player and might not make next season's Opening Day squad, Hector Sanchez has become one of the organization's most indispensable performers.As as a switch-hitting catcher, Sanchez is that rarest of baseball commodities. His singular profile, combined with his youth (22) and blossoming skill, have elevated his status among the Giants, who are closely monitoring his progress. "While we might not have seen it [at the Major League level], this kid's going to hit," general manager Brian Sabean said recently. In fact, Sanchez has hit proficiently during this offseason. He entered Wednesday batting .339 in 47 games for Tiburones de La Guaira, good for fifth in the Venezuelan Winter League. Sanchez also was tied for fifth in home runs (eight), fifth in RBIs (35) and second in OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage, .948). Interestingly, one of the league's other top performers is outfielder Gregor Blanco, who signed a Minor League contract with the Giants and leads in batting average (.348), on-base percentage (.487) and OPS (1.017). Sanchez's winter-ball performance has reinforced his value. Though it might sound blasphemous to say so, he gives the Giants a viable long-term alternative behind the plate, in case Buster Posey struggles to recover from his massive left leg injuries or moves to first base. Even if Posey returns fully healed in February and proves able to handle catching's rigors, manager Bruce Bochy has said that the 2010 National League Rookie of the Year could play 30 to 40 games at first base next season. Thus, finding a competent backup catcher will be imperative for San Francisco. Still striving to improve defensively, Sanchez appears likely to begin next season at Triple-A Fresno. But he very well could change the minds of the Giants' decision-makers if he performs impressively enough in Spring Training to eclipse veteran backups Chris Stewart and Eli Whiteside. "We're going to stay open-minded there," Bochy said. After spending 2007-09 in Rookie-level ball and playing for low-Class A Augusta in 2010, Sanchez opened this year with high-Class A San Jose and ultimately hit .301 with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 42 games there. Promoted to Triple-A Fresno, he proceeded to bat .261 in 46 games when he wasn't making brief trips to the Majors. Sanchez hit .258 with two doubles and one RBI in 13 games for the Giants.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.