Sanchez Has Hot Corner Covered

Gaby Sanchez arrived at the University of Miami last fall with a prize tag. And he has done nothing to diminish his value.

Sanchez, who led Miami Brito Private to the 2002 Class 1A state baseball championship and was named an All-State First-Team selection after hitting .480 with six home runs, 52 RBIs and 32 stolen bases, escalated to the forefront as one of the best prep players in the nation and was earning plenty of high marks in scouting notebooks.

His final season at Miami Brito Private was good enough in the eyes of the Seattle Mariners to select him in the 15th round (460th overall) of the Major League amateur draft. Sanchez was intent on playing for the Mariners but started having second thoughts after negotiations broke down. He quickly changed his focus and enrolled at UM.

And the Hurricanes are benefiting from his decision.

Even with heightened expectations, which included replacing fan favorite Kevin Howard at third base, the 6-3, 190-pounder freshman has fit it nicely into the Hurricanes starting line-up and hasn't had much difficulty in making the switch from shortstop to the hot corner for the Hurricanes. Sanchez, seventh on the team with a .342 batting average and tied for second with 13 hits, has recorded at least one hit in seven of Miami's nine games and leads the team with 12 RBIs, putting a firm grip on the third-hole in the batting order.

"I'm obviously seeing the ball good right and I think that has a lot to with working with the coaches in the fall," says Sanchez, who has a .526 slugging percentage. "I know the slump is going to come because that's unavoidable when you play this game. But the thing I have to do is stay with it and concentrate on making contact. That's my main concern right now."

Miami coach Jim Morris knew from the minute Sanchez walked onto Mark Light Field that some questions at third base would be resolved sooner than later. But like most coaches, trying to lessen the burden on young star, he did not declare Sanchez the starter at third until two weeks before the start of the season.

"A kid can have all the talent in the world but you just don't know how he's going to respond to everything going on around him," says Morris. "But I don't think that's going to be a problem with Gaby. He's proven that he can handle it."

He's been at it from the start. Sanchez did not disappoint out of the shut, going 3-for-4 with a homerun and three RBI in the first series-opener at home earlier this month and showing off advanced instincts for a player his age. Sanchez has only struck out twice in 38 at-bats this season.

"I'm trying to be selective at the plate and stay away from bad ones," he said.

Hard to believe that anything is bothering Sanchez at this point. As a first time Division I player, Sanchez has developed a habit of going over opposing pitcher scouting reports and taking extra batting practice.

"Everything at this level is kind of new so I have to work even harder to make things happen. It's better to be prepared than not prepared at all."

But he admits that the faster pace to the college game will take time to adjust to. Despite spending most of the fall trying to master a new position, Sanchez isn't totally comfortable yet at the hot corner.

"I'm still making some adjustments," said Sanchez who has made five errors. "You have to be quicker playing at third and your lateral movement is very important."

As usually is the case when a newcomer steps on campus- especially one with Sanchez's credentials- Sanchez wasn't sure how the rest of the Hurricanes would receive him. But it wasn't long before Sanchez convinced his teammates he was for real.

Several days into the fall sessions, Morris gathered the entire team and asked ‘Who the best hitter on the team was?' In unison, the players gave Morris a reply: Sanchez. Sanchez also displayed an uncanny work ethic throughout the fall off the field as well, waking up at the crack of dawn and putting long hours in the weight room with junior first baseman Jim Burt.

"Gaby is just solid in every way," says Burt, who rooms with Sanchez. "He doesn't carry himself as a freshman."

Morris only expects the 19-year-old to make even more headlines in the future.

"His knowledge of the game is going to improve and he's going to get physically bigger. The skies the limit with him," said Morris.

Sanchez will be at his usual spot tonight when the Hurricanes open a three-game series against the Citadel at Mark Light Field. The Bulldogs (2-3), on a two-game winning streak, have gotten an offensive lift from junior first baseman Chip Cannon (.444) and centerfielder Trent Weathers (.444). Cannon, 8-for-18 on the season, has a team-leading six RBIs in addition to three doubles and two triples.

UM junior Dan Touchet (2-0, 1.93 ERA) will oppose senior Matt Hamer (1-0, 2.45) in the series opener, while Vince Bongiovanni (2-1, 1.59) gets the call against Jon Ellis (1-0, 2.38) in the middle game tomorrow night. Miami left-hander Brandon Camardese (1-0, 1.74) will face Citadel freshman Ryan Owens (0-1, 9.82) in the series finale on Sunday.

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