FutureBacks.com's Most Improved Pitcher

Next week, FutureBacks will debut its Top 50 Arizona Diamondbacks Prospects list. Here, we examine a pitcher that has made huge strides in the past year, but just missed cracking that Top 50.

Before we divulge our pick for Most Improved Pitcher, we'd like to give an honorable mention to another pitcher that has really improved his game over the past calendar year.

Runner Up:

Mark Rosen, LHP W-L-S ERA IP K BB
'02-'06 15-7-5 5.67 254 228 169
2007 4-4-7 3.12 66.1 78 22

There is some dissention in the Diamondbacks' front office regarding Mark Rosen.  Farm Director A.J. Hinch assures us that Rosen's breakout 2007 season should earn him a spot in our top 30 prospects.  Yet general manager Josh Byrnes didn't think enough of Rosen to protect him from this week's Rule V Draft.

There's no doubt that Rosen made huge strides in 2007.  His strikeout-to-walk ratio has gone from pedestrian to a powerful 3:1 mark.  As a result, his ERA drastically improved, and he got the opportunity to finish 24 games after previously being used primarily in the middle innings.

Indeed, Rosen may have cracked both our Top 50 and Byrnes' protected list had he not been blown apart in the AFL.  He amassed a 12.38 ERA, primarily due to control issues.  Rosen may have made huge strides, but his AFL performance and questionable future within the organization preclude him from earning the title of Most Improved Pitcher. 

The Most Improved Pitcher:

Ramon Sanchez, RHP W-L-S ERA IP K BB
'02-'06 7-14-6 6.56 151 126 89
2006 1-10-1 7.66 67 47 44
2007 2-2-5 4.69 55.2 60 32

Obviously, when you go 1-10 with a 7.66 ERA, there's no place to go but up.  Ramon Sanchez enjoyed a rebound 2007 season that went beyond improved numbers, however.

South Bend Silver Hawks manager Mark Haley never doles out an established closer's role, but he rotates save opportunities among his best relievers to give everyone experience in that situation. 

"I'm going to pitch everybody.  Each guy's going to have the opportunity to show what he can do in clutch situations," Haley tells us every year.

But early in the season, Haley described Ramon Sanchez as the most improved player on his team, and gave him something of a stopper's role.

"We gave him the role of being, not the closer, but the guy who's going to come out of the pen and shut everything down if there's a problem," said Haley. "He's been able to go out and do that, which I've been very happy with."

There was every reason for the coach to be happy, as Sanchez allowed just one run on five hits in 12.2 April innings, fanning a dozen while walking only one batter.  The low walk total was the key, according to Silver Hawks pitching coach Wellington Cepeda.  "Beef" told us that Sanchez had both the best fastball and the best slider on the Silver Hawks (because he considered Brett Anderson's hard breaking pitch a power curve, not a slider), but that his stuff was nothing new.

"He had those pitches last year: plus changeup, plus fastball - he just tried to do too much with it," explained Cepeda.  "He's ranging from 89 to 95 [miles per hour], and he was trying to throw 100.  He'd become erratic in his delivery - pulling his head off too early.  This year, he really worked on keeping his head straight to the target.  He's now got a strong finish, and that's why his command's a lot better."

Sanchez continued to impress throughout the first half of the season, posting a 2.37 ERA in 30.1 innings.  He notched five saves in six opportunities, and he sustained his improved command to the tune of 29 strikeouts to 10 walks.

But Sanchez only appeared in five games in June due to a minor injury suffered during a rough June 16th appearance and Haley' subsequent installment of Reid Mahon as the team's stopper, a role in which Mahon would flourish.  The lack of repetition for those two weeks caused Sanchez to forget the mechanical adjustments that he made earlier in the season, and he subsequently struggled the rest of the way.  He walked 22 batters in 25.1 second half innings.

Even though he did not finish the season the way he would have liked to, Ramon Sanchez enjoyed a period of sustained success that he had not experienced before professionally.  He now knows what he needs to do to succeed, and perhaps more importantly, that he can succeed.  Ramon Sanchez is our pick for Most Improved Pitcher of 2007, and he's a great candidate to shoot through the system in 2008.

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