Name: Yunesky Sanchez
Born: Cardenas, Cuba
Weight: 210 lbs
History: Yunesky Sanchez came from Cuba without the hype of an Orlando Hernandez, a Livan Hernandez, an Alexei Ramirez, or a Dayan Viciedo. It's somewhat surprising, given all that he has going for him. He has the build of a power hitter, the glove of a defensive specialist, and decent speed to boot. What put him behind the others is his listed age. Livo was a postseason hero at age 22 if you believe his birth certificate. Ramirez finished runner-up in the AL Rookie of the Year voting at the purported age of 26 for most of the 2008 season. Viciedo is allegedly 19 and touted by some as already being major league ready. In contrast, Sanchez approaches 25 and still has a ways to go.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
For the South Bend Silver Hawks in his first professional season in the states, Sanchez made the Midwest League All-Star team despite not hitting terribly well. The selection was based on his defense, which was certainly among the best in the league.
The next season, Sanchez was skipped over Hi-A ball despite the less-than-stellar numbers he put up in Low-A. To the surprise of many, Sanchez was among the Southern League's batting average leaders for the first two months of 2008, hitting the .380 mark in April making the .320 plateau in May. He made the Southern League's All-Star squad based on his contributions on both sides of the ball, as he committed few errors early in the season. Unfortunately, his numbers dropped off in the second half, both in terms of batting average and fielding percentage.
Sanchez enters the 2009 season with a lot of question marks surrounding him. Is he the player from the first half of 2008, or the second? Will his muscular build allow him to hit for power? Will he be able to utilize his speed more effectively? Can he learn to become more selective at the plate? The answers to these questions will determine whether Sanchez is a career minor leaguer or will become an All-Star at the major league level.
Batting and Power: Although Sanchez is strong and athletic, he has a slappy, flat-planed swing. He hits a lot of balls on the ground and can often be a hair behind good fastballs or out in front of offspeed stuff. Even when he is fooled in that manner, he is generally able to make contact with the ball, just not terribly solid contact.
Part of the problem, too, is selectivity. Sanchez is often swinging at the first pitch, and when he does work deep into a count, it is usually because he is fouling off pitches, not taking them. If he learns to wait for a certain pitch in a certain area of the strike zone, he could drive his pitch for power. But his inability to do anything more than "see the ball, hit the ball" at lower levels suggests that Sanchez will have even more trouble as he faces better pitching.
A switch-hitter, Sanchez fares much better as a left-handed hitter. Although it isn't his natural side, he has had far more reps swinging lefty than righty as a pro.
"His biggest thing is just consistency with his bat," insists infield coordinator Tony Perezchica. "He's a guy that could surprise a lot of people."
Base Running and Speed: Sanchez stole home as part of a double steal in July, with teammate Gerardo Parra swiping second. Earlier that month, Sanchez tried to score from second when Parra grounded into a fielder's choice in the 10th inning, but was gunned down to end the game. Sanchez is always looking to take an extra base on a wild pitch, sacrifice fly, or hit.
Clearly, Sanchez is an aggressive base runner, but that aggressiveness has bred only mixed success. Part of the reason for that is that he only possesses decent speed. He's been caught stealing more often than he has successfully stolen bases, as he gets terrible reads off pitchers and doesn't have a great first step when he decides to run.
His refusal to draw walks precludes him from being an effective table-setter anyway, but utilizing his speed better when he does reach base would still make him a more valuable offensive player.
Defense: Sanchez was named as the best defensive player on the BayBears last year. His fielding percentage at shortstop improved from .966 in 2007 to .969 last season, and he only made one error in 16 games at second bade (.987). While his range at shortstop is just average, he rarely makes mistakes with his soft hands and accurate arm.
"He's got great hands," lauds Perezchica. "A great arm; one of the best arms in our organization as an infielder."
Sanchez also has an excellent transfer and pivot on the double play ball. One might figure that he might be best suited for second base, where his range would rank above average, but that would waste his great throwing arm. At third base, his double play aptitude would be for naught.
Major League Clone: Yuniesky Betancourt
Prediction: Sanchez does not hit or run well enough to be an everyday player in the big leagues. He is big and athletic, but he turns 25 in May, so he likely would have shown more ability on offense by now if he were going to develop it. Sanchez should still be a useful utility player somewhere, because he can throw leather with the best of them.
ETA: Sanchez is in a mix with Pedro Ciriaco and Mark Hallberg of shortstops who should begin the season at Double-A. You can't have three starting shortstops at one level, so Sanchez will likely get tested at Triple-A Reno. His age suggests that he can succeed there, but his inexperience does not. Of course, few would have predicted that he would have skipped a level and performed so well at Double-A, so we shouldn't be surprised if Sanchez can step up in '09 and put himself in the mix for a big league utility role in 2010.
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