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When I do these fantasy baseball prospect pieces, I typically try to get guys who appear to be making their way to the Majors sometime in 2014. Toronto Blue Jays prospect starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez wasn’t expected to be in the conversation for 2014; until this year, the highest level that Sanchez had achieved was 86.1 innings of High-A ball. The 21-year-old was probably going to be given another full year in the Minors before any consideration of getting a look from the Jays.
The problem is that the Jays are struggling to find consistent starting pitching. The only regular starter they have with an ERA (as of time of writing) under 4.30 is Mark Buehrle – J.A. Happ is at 3.57 but has just three starts this year. The thought was to have Marcus Stroman perhaps take the fifth starters’ role but he hasn’t performed very well either. With the Jays only one game back of first place, they can ill afford to keep giving starts to Happ or Dustin McGowan.
Sanchez was chosen in the supplemental round of the 2010 MLB Entry Draft as compensation for the loss of Marco Scutaro to free agency. Known as one of the “Big Three” pitching prospects the Jays had, along with Justin Nicolino and Noah Syndergaard, Sanchez is the last one standing; Nicolino was part of the package that went to Miami in the Jose Reyes trade and Syndergaard went to the New York Mets as part of the R.A. Dickey trade.
Standing 6-foot-4 and weighing around 200 lbs, Sanchez is a big right-hander who creates a very good downward plane on his pitches. That downward plane, in conjunction with a natural two-seam movement that comes with his fastball, can make it especially tough to hit. He has a very good curveball to go along with that fastball and a change-up that is still developing. The fastball sits in the mid-90s with that two-seam movement, a curveball that sits around 80 MPH and when thrown right, has a good 11-5 break on it. His curve can get a bit dangerous, though, when he fails to stay over the ball and it then becomes more of a slurve. That said, both of his top two pitches are plus pitches.
Sanchez’s final pitch is a traditional change-up and it is a hard change-up; Sanchez throws an 88 MPH change-up which gives him about a 7 MPH differential between his fastball and his change. He still does not have good command of his change-up, though, and should be considered a work in progress. For a very good read on Sanchez’s pitches, their movement, and how he stacks up against current big leaguers, I recommend this read by Andrew Stoeten of theScore. For one snippet, Sanchez’s curveball stacks up very well with that of Shelby Miller, who had a .259 wOBA against his curve in 2013 (this year, like the rest of his pitches, it’s been a different story for Miller).
Of course, despite the plus-fastball, future plus-curve, and developing change-up, there are significant issues with Sanchez. In another good read by Mr. Stoeten, the discussion revolves around Sanchez’s mechanics and delivery with quotes from Keith Law of ESPN. Sanchez’s delivery is upright and his lead stride is short, almost as if he’s warming up in the outfield before the game. This leads to Sanchez not repeating his delivery consistently and then he becomes wild. And Sanchez can get very wild; his career BB/9 in the Minors is 4.8 and it’s 5.4 through 43.1 innings at Double-A. His plus stuff means that the walks haven’t killed his ERA (3.31 in 299.1 minor league innings) but that will be a problem once he starts facing the elite hitters in the world.
For a good video on exactly what I mean, watch this video where from the Arizona Fall League – taken by Mike Rosenbaum of Bleacher Report – where Sanchez can get strikeouts with his curve but his wildness, even with his fastball, becomes very evident.
If it weren’t for Toronto’s dire starting situation, I wouldn’t have given much thought to Sanchez in the MLB this year. While he probably won’t be up any time soon, he seems to be on the short list of players that will most likely be on the roster come September.
With Sanchez, owners have to take the good with the bad. The WHIP will be a killer because of all the walks but his plus pitches give him the ability to rack up the strikeouts. That could keep his ERA lower than maybe his xFIP would indicate because his natural two-seam movement and plus-curveball can help keep the ball off the barrel of the bat.
Unless Sanchez’s change-up really comes along this year in the Minors, I don’t know if the Jays put him in the rotation this year. Even with their starting pitching troubles, a two-pitch pitcher with command issues doesn’t play well in the American League East. If he gets the call, I would assume it’s because someone like Marcus Stroman or Todd Redmond gets put in the rotation and there is a need in the bullpen. In that sense, Sanchez could be with the big club by September but it may be in a bullpen role and that’s useless except in deep leagues (18+ team mixed leagues or AL-Only Leagues).
Sanchez will one day be in the MLB as a starter but I will be surprised if it’s this year. Even with the Jays’ starting struggles, I expect them to move bullpen arms to the rotation and then minor league arms to the bullpen. He’s not showing any ability to improve his walks, though, so now may be a good time to sell him in dynasty leagues. He’s still a shiny enough prospect that he can fetch something to help this year and without an overhaul to his delivery, it’ll be tough for him to keep those walks under control.
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