Sanchez On Course

DUNEDIN, FL - Blue Jays top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez has developed one of the minor league's most electric repertoires. The 21-year-old is capable of reaching triple digits, such as on July 18th when he went head-to-head with Twins uber-prospect Byron Buxton. Sanchez acknowledged that he definitely was more dialed in than usual when facing off against Buxton.

"You obviously have the rankings out. [Buxton's] on the cover of Baseball America and he's a talented player, so you've got to give him that," Sanchez said. "I think for me, yeah, there's a little bit more adrenaline going into a batter like that.

"For me, it's a lot more focus. Not saying that I take focus off of anybody else, but I think when you get a player of that caliber in the box, it's power versus power and then it's just… let's go."

The biggest critique of Sanchez entering his first season at high-A Dunedin was the fireballer's high walk rate. Even in his breakout 2012 campaign at Class-A Lansing – where he posted a 2.49 ERA, 9.66 K/9, and limited batters to a .201 batting average – Sanchez' walk rate was upwards of five batters per nine innings.

Being able to succeed despite issuing that many free passes was a testament to Sanchez's incredible fastball-changeup-curveball combination, but he was unlikely to survive at higher levels with such an extreme walk rate.

Sanchez has improved with his command this season, lowering his BB/9 to 4.11 across 76 and 2/3 innings in the Florida Coast League.

"With the velocity I have, my game is I'm going right after you," Sanchez explained. "I'm not going to give up that many hits, I'm going to walk a few guys, and I'm going to strike a lot of guys out. That's just my game.

"I mean obviously [the walks] have been something I've been concerned about all year, but it's nothing that I'm getting too worried about."

"Command hasn't been a real issue with him other than the fact that he has trouble throwing his curveball over the plate," Dunedin Blue Jays pitching coach Darold Knowles said, which is an area that Sanchez concurs has been a focus for him this season.

In addition to aiming to throw the curveball for strikes more consistently, Sanchez noted that he's also been "finding the difference between the one for a strike and the one for a put-away pitch."

Sanchez can dial his fastball up with the best, but what makes the California native a coveted talent is his ability to mix in his secondary pitches. Knowles has been especially impressed with how Sanchez has utilized his plus curveball and high-80's changeup, which serve as excellent compliments to his fastball.

"That's part of the thing about him learning how to pitch, because he cannot blow hitters away [with the fastball] at this level. We've had guys come through here throw just as hard and get hit hard.

"Sanchez himself has gotten hit hard when he doesn't command his fastball even though it's in the mid-to-upper 90's most of the time. It's been a big eye-opener for him just to know that the hitters don't care how hard you throw."

While the curveball has always been in Sanchez' back pocket to punch batters out, his changeup has become a tremendous option for him. Being able to tie hitters up with an 89 MPH changeup after bringing high-90's heat is simply unfair. Knowles referred to the changeup as "major league ready."

"The best part about it is that he will throw it to right and left-handers," Knowles said. "It's a great weapon for him and he likes to throw it even when he's behind in the count, so that's a big plus."

There have been a few bumps in the road this season for Sanchez, as he missed about a month in late May after being placed on the DL with shoulder fatigue.

In 42 and 2/3 innings prior to the injury, he had a 3.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 3.37 BB/9 compared to a 3.71 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 5.03 BB/9 in 34 innings since. Sanchez admitted that missing that time disrupted the rhythm that he had early in the season.

"It took me a little while to find where I needed to be - where I was at the beginning of the year - and that kind of took awhile. I was limited coming off the DL, so I didn't get to pitch that many innings."

Much of the damage to Sanchez' statline came during a July 28th outing against the Jupiter Hammerheads, in which Sanchez was unable to make it out of the first inning. Sanchez allowed four walks, two hits, and five earned runs, while managing to record just two outs.

The next hiccup came ten days later, when Sanchez was removed from his start against the Lakeland Flying Tigers after he started to develop a blister. This proved to be nothing more than a precautionary move by the Blue Jays coaching staff, as Sanchez returned seven days later to pitch five scoreless innings against Lakeland.

"Yeah, it was fine," Sanchez said when asked about the blister. "No issues. It wouldn't have been a problem [to pitch on normal rest].

"It wasn't tender, the burning sensation wasn't there. It was just something they felt was going to be worse if I did keep going with it. With the playoffs coming up, they just wanted me to be 100 percent going forward."

Despite the setbacks, Sanchez has made strides this year with his control and has managed to tighten up other facets of his game. With a 3.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and youth on his side, Sanchez still has room for growth.

Expect him to start next season at Double-A New Hampshire in the Eastern League, where former teammate Noah Syndergaard is currently pitching for the Mets.

The careers of Sanchez, Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino will most likely always be tied together, at least in the minds of Blue Jays fans who once drooled over the possibility of having all three at the front of the big league rotation.

Despite not being able to progress through the ranks of the Blue Jays system with two of his closest friends, Sanchez understands that the objective remains the same.

"Our ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues, whether it's with Toronto, or Miami, or New York. That's what we're here to work for."


Future Jays Top Stories

\r\n \r\n\r\n\"You obviously have the rankings out. [Buxton's] on the cover of Baseball America and he's a talented player, so you've got to give him that,\" Sanchez said. \"I think for me, yeah, there's a little bit more adrenaline going into a batter like that.
\r\n
\r\n\"For me, it's a lot more focus. Not saying that I take focus off of anybody else, but I think when you get a player of that caliber in the box, it's power versus power and then it's just… let's go.\"
\r\n
\r\nThe biggest critique of Sanchez entering his first season at high-A Dunedin was the fireballer's high walk rate. Even in his breakout 2012 campaign at Class-A Lansing – where he posted a 2.49 ERA, 9.66 K/9, and limited batters to a .201 batting average – Sanchez' walk rate was upwards of five batters per nine innings.
\r\n
\r\nBeing able to succeed despite issuing that many free passes was a testament to Sanchez's incredible fastball-changeup-curveball combination, but he was unlikely to survive at higher levels with such an extreme walk rate.
\r\n
\r\nSanchez has improved with his command this season, lowering his BB/9 to 4.11 across 76 and 2/3 innings in the Florida Coast League.
\r\n
\r\n\"With the velocity I have, my game is I'm going right after you,\" Sanchez explained. \"I'm not going to give up that many hits, I'm going to walk a few guys, and I'm going to strike a lot of guys out. That's just my game.
\r\n
\r\n\"I mean obviously [the walks] have been something I've been concerned about all year, but it's nothing that I'm getting too worried about.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"Command hasn't been a real issue with him other than the fact that he has trouble throwing his curveball over the plate,\" Dunedin Blue Jays pitching coach Darold Knowles said, which is an area that Sanchez concurs has been a focus for him this season.
\r\n
\r\nIn addition to aiming to throw the curveball for strikes more consistently, Sanchez noted that he's also been \"finding the difference between the one for a strike and the one for a put-away pitch.\"
\r\n
\r\nSanchez can dial his fastball up with the best, but what makes the California native a coveted talent is his ability to mix in his secondary pitches. Knowles has been especially impressed with how Sanchez has utilized his plus curveball and high-80's changeup, which serve as excellent compliments to his fastball.
\r\n
\r\n\"That's part of the thing about him learning how to pitch, because he cannot blow hitters away [with the fastball] at this level. We've had guys come through here throw just as hard and get hit hard.
\r\n
\r\n\"Sanchez himself has gotten hit hard when he doesn't command his fastball even though it's in the mid-to-upper 90's most of the time. It's been a big eye-opener for him just to know that the hitters don't care how hard you throw.\"
\r\n
\r\nWhile the curveball has always been in Sanchez' back pocket to punch batters out, his changeup has become a tremendous option for him. Being able to tie hitters up with an 89 MPH changeup after bringing high-90's heat is simply unfair. Knowles referred to the changeup as \"major league ready.\"
\r\n
\r\n\"The best part about it is that he will throw it to right and left-handers,\" Knowles said. \"It's a great weapon for him and he likes to throw it even when he's behind in the count, so that's a big plus.\"
\r\n
\r\nThere have been a few bumps in the road this season for Sanchez, as he missed about a month in late May after being placed on the DL with shoulder fatigue.
\r\n
\r\nIn 42 and 2/3 innings prior to the injury, he had a 3.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 3.37 BB/9 compared to a 3.71 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, and 5.03 BB/9 in 34 innings since. Sanchez admitted that missing that time disrupted the rhythm that he had early in the season.
\r\n
\r\n\"It took me a little while to find where I needed to be - where I was at the beginning of the year - and that kind of took awhile. I was limited coming off the DL, so I didn't get to pitch that many innings.\"
\r\n
\r\nMuch of the damage to Sanchez' statline came during a July 28th outing against the Jupiter Hammerheads, in which Sanchez was unable to make it out of the first inning. Sanchez allowed four walks, two hits, and five earned runs, while managing to record just two outs.
\r\n
\r\nThe next hiccup came ten days later, when Sanchez was removed from his start against the Lakeland Flying Tigers after he started to develop a blister. This proved to be nothing more than a precautionary move by the Blue Jays coaching staff, as Sanchez returned seven days later to pitch five scoreless innings against Lakeland.
\r\n
\r\n\"Yeah, it was fine,\" Sanchez said when asked about the blister. \"No issues. It wouldn't have been a problem [to pitch on normal rest].
\r\n
\r\n\"It wasn't tender, the burning sensation wasn't there. It was just something they felt was going to be worse if I did keep going with it. With the playoffs coming up, they just wanted me to be 100 percent going forward.\"
\r\n
\r\nDespite the setbacks, Sanchez has made strides this year with his control and has managed to tighten up other facets of his game. With a 3.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and youth on his side, Sanchez still has room for growth.
\r\n
\r\nExpect him to start next season at Double-A New Hampshire in the Eastern League, where former teammate Noah Syndergaard is currently pitching for the Mets.
\r\n
\r\nThe careers of Sanchez, Syndergaard, and Justin Nicolino will most likely always be tied together, at least in the minds of Blue Jays fans who once drooled over the possibility of having all three at the front of the big league rotation.
\r\n
\r\nDespite not being able to progress through the ranks of the Blue Jays system with two of his closest friends, Sanchez understands that the objective remains the same.
\r\n
\r\n\"Our ultimate goal is to get to the big leagues, whether it's with Toronto, or Miami, or New York. That's what we're here to work for.\"
\r\n
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