It's July 2, 2008. Known as international signing day in major league baseball. The day that teams can "officially" offer contracts to amateur free agents. I use the term "officially" loosely since players are signed throughout the year, but I digress.
As the scouting world was raving about the Oakland Athletics signing 16 year old Michael Ynoa for $4.25 million, 18 year old Angel Sanchez was getting ready to go to college.
It's not that Sanchez didn't want to pitch in the major leagues. It wasn't that he wasn't interested in playing baseball. Angel was being realistic. He wanted to provide for his family and knew the odds were against him signing a massive contract, making it to the states or playing in the big leagues.
"In the Dominican, everything is hard," he tells me. "I wanted to finish school." What's harder is trying to provide for your family without an education. That's why, unlike many kids who jump at the first five or six figure deal they see, Sanchez wanted to ensure his family would be provided for, even if baseball didn't work out. And even though he has one semester left, Angel is determined to work on his baseball during the summer and his scholarship in the winter. His major? Accounting.
In July of 2010, Angel Sanchez was 20. In the Dominican, there is no such thing as a 20 year old pitching prospect. Even though the slender right-hander could throw a fastball in the low nineties, most teams weren't interested in his services. But it only takes one team to fulfill your dreams. And for Sanchez, that team was the Dodgers.
Logan White, the Dodgers' assistant general manager in charge of scouting, has employed a different strategies than his counterparts when it comes to international free agents. Instead of spending millions on 16 and 17 year olds, White prefers to cast a wider net, spread his resources around and seek out overlooked or underappreciated talent. This strategy was borne not only out of pragmatism, but also necessity. The Dodgers have been among the lowest spenders internationally for the past few years.
White has been subject to budgets drawn up by a cash-strapped Frank McCourt. As players like Ynoa and others are raking in big bucks internationally, that's driving the prices up, which places White in a situation where he has to become even more creative with his limited resources. However, that's not to say every player is worth what he's signed for. "People aren't looking at how good the players are, it's how much money they're spending on them."
So how much money did the Dodgers end up giving Angel Sanchez? $7,500. That's it. Less than one one hundred thousandth of what the team was sold for. More than $4 million less than Michael Ynoa. And for Sanchez, it was plenty.
He had one goal after signing: making the big leagues. His mindset was to get the LA, not for the fame or glory, but simply to provide for those he cares about. "I was thinking I have to do a great job here because I have to move to the big leagues soon because I'm trying to help my family."
The Salcedo native waited until 2011 to make his professional debut, filling in for a guy who was signed for $5.25 million, Zach Lee. In his debut, he gave up a few runs, including a home run and his entrance into American baseball came and went without much fanfare. But then he started to make some noise. In May, Angel posted a 3.48 ERA. In June, that lowered to an impressive 1.20. And after a slight bump in the road in July, he ended the season with a 2.57 mark through August and September.
He ended the season with an impressive 2.82 ERA in 99 innings, holding opposing batters to a .198 average and striking out 84.
"I was trying to be focused," he said. "I was watching a lot of games from the big leagues." He drew inspiration from one of the best pitchers in the game. "Justin Verlander – that's my pitcher right now." And while that would be a lofty standard to live up to, Sanchez can run his fastball into the high nineties on occasion and has a similar three pitch mix to the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP award winner.
The Dodgers thought so much of the young right-hander that they invited him to spring training and brought him to LA for their series against the Angels. In Dodger Stadium, he squared off with one of the greatest hitters to ever play the game: Albert Pujols.
"That was amazing," he exclaims with a joyous smile. "I see this guy come to (the plate) and I said ‘Oh my gosh.'" But Sanchez didn't fold under pressure. Instead, he went right after the three time MVP. "I was thinking, ‘I'm going to throw a fastball. If you miss it, you're out. If you don't miss it, (it's a) home run.'" And while it did come close to being a home run, In the end, it was just another out. And his brief time in a major league ballpark gave him even more motivation to climb the ladder. "Now I have more of an opportunity to make it to the big leagues."
So what should Dodger fans expect from Angel this season? "My goal, for right now, is to try to do a good job here."
2012 hasn't been easy for him so far, but he's used to adversity. Not only as a baseball player, but a kid growing up in the Dominican. And whether he fulfills his dream of becoming a big league pitcher or not, the important thing is he'll be able to provide for his family, whether he's putting up the big numbers or making sure they all add up.
Dodgers' Sanchez is a Real Angel in LA
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