Hickory Crawdads catcher Tyler Sanchez and Kannapolis Intimidators pitcher Alex Katz were teammates during the 2015 season at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. The Red Storm captured the Big East regular season title last year and then went on to capture the tournament title as well, which was played at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, Neb, home of the College World Series.
St. John’s reached the final of the NCAA regional at Stillwater, Okla., – knocking out the host Cowboys in the process – before bowing to Arkansas.
From the team that finished 44-10, the Red Storm had six players drafted in baseball’s 2015 first-year player draft out of the 11 total that were taken from Big East Conference. From among that group, Sanchez was taken by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round, while Katz was selected in the 27th round by the Chicago White Sox.
Both Katz and Sanchez credit long-time head coach Ed Blankmeyer for running a pro-style type of baseball program that helped them and their teammates to be selected by major league clubs. The six taken last June continued a long line of success since Blankmeyer took over the head coaching duties of the Red Storm in 1996. According to baseballreference.com, 58 players have been selected in the June draft while Blankmeyer has led the program.
Sanchez and Katz faced each other for the first time last Saturday (April 9) in a game at Kannapolis. In the eighth inning of that game, Sanchez lined a first-pitch fastball over the fence in left. It was the first homer that Katz had allowed since his sophomore year in 2013.
In the interview below, Sanchez and Katz talked about the 2015 draft-day experience and beyond, as well as the homer hit by Sanchez against his former teammate.
What was draft day like for all you guys at St. John’s?
Sanchez: I’m sure it was a good time. Personally, I really wasn’t expecting to get drafted. I was more getting prepared for summer ball for that upcoming season. We ended up getting six guys drafted, five signed. It just showed how good our team was, at least pitching wise. We were pretty successful and hopefully we’ll all have pretty good careers.
Katz: I‘d say I was pretty nervous. I was the last one taken out of the six. It was definitely great seeing all my teammates get drafted and then see my name pop up. So that made it even better. Like Tyler said, it just showed how great the program is.
You had a head coach that has been around a good while. What did he do to prepare you guys for the pros? What are some things that you learned that you’ll carry into this part of your baseball careers?
Katz: I’d say that college ball and pro ball are pretty similar. It’s a daily grind, definitely. The day is pretty much similar, besides the fact that you go to school every day. I learned that because Coach Blankmeyer of St. John’s runs it pretty much like a pro style of baseball program.
Tyler, in talking about that, what maybe does your program do that perhaps other college programs do not do that prepares you guys?
Sanchez: I can’t really speak on other programs. But I know that at St. John’s, Blankmeyer doesn’t baby anybody. He tells you how it is and if you don’t like it, so be it. I think that prepares a lot of guys for pro ball.
So you guys that have started pro ball last June, do the six of you banter back and forth or text back and forth on how things are going?
Sanchez: We’ve got a little group chat going on. We get together and talk about it like once a month, maybe, just to see how everybody’s doing.
What, Alex is something that the six of you have talked about in your chat to each other about pro ball and adjusting to that? Maybe the mental side of it? Is there something that is consistent to all of your experiences?
Katz: I think it’s pretty similar, no matter where you are in the country, no matter what organization or what team you play for. It’s pretty much the same experience. You’re basically getting there at 1:30 for a 7:00 start and playing ball all day and all night….so we could definitely relate to one another.
Did you two talk before you faced each other last weekend? Was there a little trash talk going on?
Katz: Actually a lot. We said hi to each other during batting practice. The last time we saw each other was a couple of months ago at St. John’s when we were working out in the offseason. After he hit that home run off of me, I texted him and said, “You’re welcome.” I’ve probably given him less credit than he deserves because, I told him that he knows me better than any player in the country.
As a catcher you’ve seen his stuff and you probably have an idea as to what was coming?
Sanchez: I wouldn’t say I had an idea. I knew he wanted to get ahead. I faced him a lot in the past, but I hadn’t really had very good success, like at intersquads and stuff. I was lucky to get a ball that I could hit.
Any thought of bat flipping?
Was there any sort of chitter-chat as you rounded the bases?
Sanchez: Nah, there was nothing like that. I try to keep it classy.
Katz: I told the shortstop he should’ve tossed his glove up because it was a line-drive missile right over the fence. He hit it good, but it was almost eye level.
Was there any chit-chat after?
Katz: Give credit to him, he hasn’t had much success off me in intersquads, but when it counts, I guess that’s all that matters. I’m probably going to face him a few more times this season, so I can’t tell him my game plan.
One year you’re teammates and the next year you’re enemies, as that’s what happens in baseball. Do you discuss, “hey watch out for Alex’s stuff.”, or do you say, “watch out for Tyler and what he does? Is there any sort of banter back and forth on that scale?
Sanchez: Not really. Once you’ve been around long enough, you’re going to see guys and you’re going to see what they’ve got. I let people do their own thing. I don’t want to say something and give them the wrong thing. So, I just let everybody do their own thing.
Katz: I go along with what Tyler said. It’s a little different for him, he’s a position player. He’s in the dugout and he’s talking to the hitters. I guess I’m in the bullpen and I’m talking to all the relief pitchers. We’re going to face the guys many times throughout the year and you just have to make adjustments quickly… Every pitcher’s different, so it’s really hard to tell, based on scouting reports and things like that.
Has Blankmeyer talked with the two of you since you were drafted?
Katz: Both of us have worked out together in the offseason in the weight room. We actually help out some of the guys on the current St. John’s team… As far as calling during the season, we’re both kind of busy, so we don’t always get together on the phone. In the offseason we talk a lot.
What is the biggest memory from the Big East Championship?
Sanchez: Taking it home and winning it, of course. Having our Saturday guy go down to the pen without anybody telling him to and coming in the last inning and close it out for us.
And closing it out on the College World Series field?
Sanchez: A great atmosphere. Obviously, not as packed as we’d like it, but as a playing surface, you can’t get much better than that.