Sanchez Muscles Up With Bad Intentions

It doesn't take long to notice there's something different about Gaby Sanchez - but it didn't happen overnight. The University of Miami sophomore third baseman didn't waste too much time after the Hurricanes were eliminated from last year's College World Series to get back in the weight room with intentions of beefing up.

Sanchez worked out daily over the summer and did everything possible to eat whatever he could get his hands on. The result: Sanchez will start the season at 202 pounds. Quite a difference from the lanky 187-pounder who showed up in Coral Gables in the fall of 2002.

"I did everything possible in the off-season to get stronger because I honestly think I can hit for more power," said Sanchez as the Hurricanes prepare to open the season against Florida tonight at Mark Light Field. "This is a decision I felt I needed to make because it's going to pay off for me in the long run."

The three-game series will no doubt be an early-season indicator of where Miami and Florida - both expected to be frontrunners for the CWS - could be headed. The Hurricanes, ranked co-No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 3 by Baseball America, are coming off a 45-17-1 season that ended with a fifth-place finish in the College World Series. Florida (2-0) opened the season with a two-game sweep of Gardner-Webb.

Miami returns all of its position players from last year's squad, including Sanchez, who tied for second on the team with a .328 batting average, while adding seven home runs and 56 RBIs. He added a team-leading 21 doubles with a .508 slugging percentage. But Sanchez, a third-team preseason Baseball America All-American, feels he can provide more power this season in a line-up that had just two players finish with double-figure home runs in 2003. If Sanchez just duplicates his home run total of a season ago it will mean power hitters such as Ryan Braun and Jim Burt will likely get better pitches to handle.

"I wasn't unhappy or anything with the kind of the season I had," said Sanchez. "But I realize how much better I need to be if I'm going to reach my potential. I really think being stronger is really going to help me. Now most of the balls that I was hitting to the warning track are finding their way over the wall. The weight is also going to help with the everyday wear and tear of the season. I'm ready to go."

Instead of tinkering with his batting stance at the plate Sanchez has made it point to stay away from bad pitches.

"I didn't change much to tell you the truth," Sanchez. "The biggest difference for me is going to be staying away from bad pitches and being a little more selective at the plate."

That isn't a good sign for opposing pitchers considering Sanchez was pretty effective with the bat in his hands last year. Sanchez opened the season by hitting safely in the first six games, including five hits during a series at Florida. Sanchez added four hits in the CWS.

But as much as Sanchez worked in the weight room during the off-season with hopes of increasing his offensive production the 6-3, 202-pounder didn't shy away from trying to improve defensively - an area of his game that many think needs work. Despite suffering a lower leg injury in the fall that required a cast, Sanchez made sure to take extra fielding after every practice. Additionally, Sanchez put himself through a series of agility drills on a daily basis in order to sharpen up his fielding mechanics.

Sanchez made a team-high 24 errors and finished the season with the lowest fielding percentage (.854) of all the Hurricanes position players. The majority of Sanchez's errors - including several in the CWS - were of the throwing variety. Though, Sanchez says that he never felt mentally defeated as a result of his struggles on defense UM assistant coach Gino DiMare doesn't agree.

"There's no doubt in my mind that it was a mental thing with Gaby," said DiMare. "Gaby as a freshman here in the fall (of 2002) was one of the best defensive players I've ever seen. But that's something he has to coup with now. Every great player that's come through here has made adjustments in order to become a better player and I expect Gaby to do the same."

UM coach Jim Morris concurs with DiMare.

"Gaby just lost his confidence a little bit," said Morris. "But he worked his tail off in the fall and I expected everything to work out for him."

While Sanchez is aiming for a strong start to the season the Gators - ranked No. 15 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 20 by Baseball America - will be out for some redemption after losing to the Hurricanes in the Coral Gables Regional championship game last season. Florida, which scored 22 runs in a season-opening sweep over Gardner-Webb, has one of the best offensive squads in the nation with the return of senior right-fielder Ben Harrison ( .500 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI) and junior first baseman CJ Smith (.429, 1 HR, 5 RBI). Sophomore second baseman Justin Tordi (.571 BA, .714 slugging percentage) has provided a lift at the top of the order.

Miami senior left-hander J. D. Cockroft will oppose Florida junior right-hander Justin Hoyman (1-0, 0.00 ERA) in the series-opener, while Vince Bongiovanni and Brandon Camardese will start for the Hurricanes on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Gators have not determined their starting pitchers for the second and third games of the series. UM leads the all-time series 111-84-1, including a 24-19 mark against the Gators under Morris.

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