PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Miami-born and raised, Gaby Sanchez grew up a Marlins fan. He attended the University of Miami, and even during his Minor League career, he paid for a ticket to see his hometown team.
When Anibal Sanchez no-hit the D-backs in September 2006, Sanchez was at Sun Life Stadium as a fan.
Gaby Sanchez has come a long way since then.
On Monday, the Marlins announced that the 26-year-old will be their starting first baseman. The path was cleared for Sanchez when prospect Logan Morrison was reassigned to Minor League camp.
Shortly before the Marlins faced the Mets at Digital Domain Park on Monday, manager Fredi Gonzalez called Sanchez into his office to break the news.
"If we started the season tomorrow, Gaby is our first baseman," Gonzalez said. "We hinted the other day that [with] his flexibility, he can be our emergency catcher."
A fourth-round Draft pick in 2005, Sanchez did some catching in college, and he last played the position in a game as a Minor Leaguer in 2007.
Foremost, Sanchez will be looked upon to anchor first base. The plan also is to hit him eighth.
The Opening Day batting order on April 5 against the Mets projects to be: Chris Coghlan (LF), Cameron Maybin (CF), Hanley Ramirez (SS), Jorge Cantu (3B), Dan Uggla (2B), Ronny Paulino (C), Cody Ross (RF), Sanchez (1B) and Josh Johnson (P).
"Now, it's all about productivity," Gonzalez said. "I think Gaby has been able to handle it, hitting eighth. He asks good questions. I think he's going to be patient enough. He has good strike-zone recognition."
A year ago, Sanchez was in a similar situation. The Miami native entered the 2009 Spring Training with an inside track to win the job. But he had an injury-plagued and inconsistent spring, and opened the season in Triple-A New Orleans.
That was then. With another year of Minor League seasoning under his belt, Sanchez has enjoyed a strong Spring Training.
"Last year, I was going in my head, 'I can make this team. I can do this, and I can do that,' " Sanchez said. "When things are not going the way you wanted them to go, you started to press. I just put myself in a hole. This year, I went into it saying, 'I'm not going to make the same mistake. I'm going to go out there, and have fun and not worry about the stats.' Instead of worrying about what I need to do, rather than just going out there and doing it."
In Grapefruit League play, Sanchez has stood out. He's batting .409 with two home runs and five RBIs in 44 at-bats. Morrison, meanwhile, finished his Grapefruit League stint with a .209 average and six RBIs in 43 at-bats.
Morrison likely is headed to Triple-A. The 22-year-old left-handed hitter and fielder is regarded as a future star.
"I told him, 'This is our decision to send you down. It's not the end of the world,'" Gonzalez said. "Last year, Coghlan went down, and he came back and won Rookie of the Year. Be ready. If an opportunity arises, be ready to take advantage of it."
Morrison entered Spring Training as the 25th ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com's Top 50 Prospect Rankings.
"I see a very good Major Leaguer, not just an average Major Leaguer," Gonzalez said. "This guy can hit. Maybe he's going through what Gaby went through last year. This guy can run. He's not a cigar store statue."
In another roster move on Monday, reliever Scott Strickland was reassigned to Minor League camp. The right-hander will head to New Orleans.
The Marlins also lost the services of right-hander Hayden Penn, who was claimed off waivers by the Pirates. Penn had been in the mix to win a rotation spot when Spring Training opened.
With Strickland out of camp, the Marlins' final bullpen spot may wind up going to either Seth McClung or Tim Wood.
Rick VandenHurk is another possibility. But chances are VandenHurk will remain a starting pitcher, not a reliever. He will be able to do that at New Orleans.
Wood has been impressive in Spring Training, especially with his fastball and slider.
The question the team will ask is whether to stay with the experience of McClung or the youth of Wood.
McClung, in camp on a Minor League contract, has a clause to opt out of his deal on Thursday. McClung also gives flexibility because he has been a starter, long reliever and he's even closed in the big leagues. He is more of a multi-innings option than Wood.
Sanchez batted .289 with 16 home runs and 56 RBIs at New Orleans last year. He also appeared in 21 games with the Marlins, and he has 26 games of big league experience the past two years.
"I think I definitely had a different mindset," Sanchez said. "I came in here relaxed, and not worried about a different outcome. I took pressure off myself."