Giants Top 50: #4 - Jonathan Sanchez

A couple of years ago, the Giants took a flame-throwing starter prospect and turned him into a reliever to rush him to the majors. The result was and remains disastrous, and the prospect has fallen on hard times ever since. The Giants did it again in 2006, and the results were much more mixed. But where will he end up? #4 is Jonathan Sanchez.

Date of Birth: 11/19/1982 Position: P Height: 6'2" Weight: 165 Bats: L Throws: L
Acquired: Drafted in the 27th Round (#820 Overall) of the 2004 Draft
2006 Stats
Connecticut - Double-A 2 1 1.15 13 3 2 31.1 14 7 4 0 9 46 .137 0.96
Fresno - Triple-A 2 2 3.80 6 6 0 23.2 13 10 10 1 13 28 .163 0.65
San Francisco - MLB 3 1 4.95 27 4 0 40.0 39 26 22 2 23 33 .250 0.76

Well, at least this attempt in catching lighting in a bottle hasn't ended in disaster.  Yet.

Jonathan Sanchez had one of the best 2005 seasons of any San Francisco Giants prospect, and 2005 was a good year.  Sanchez led the South Atlantic League in strikeouts, and was part of the San Jose team that won the California League championship.  Sanchez then followed it up with a hard push straight to Double-A.

The push seemed to have been warranted.  Sanchez started the season strong, allowing just 7 hits in 16.2 innings, and striking out 23 against 5 walks.

But then the Giants got greedy.

Sanchez was moved to relief, in a move that the Giants indicated was to save his arm after a heavy 2005 workload, and to see what he could do.  Sanchez worked for a month in relief in Connecticut, and he started off shaky although he adjusted.  Sanchez was promoted straight to the majors, and his start was inspiring.  He didn't allow a hit in his first 8 outings, and seemed solid.  But walks soon took over his performance and he began to appear vulnerable.

The Giants, falling out of the race, chose to send Sanchez back to the minors, but this time to Triple-A.  Sanchez made 6 starts in Fresno, posting respectable stats in the hitter's league, one that has been known to take advantage of pitchers with control problems.  Sanchez returned to the majors in September, this time as a starter.  He was taken advantage of, however, and his ERA skyrocketed.

So who is Sanchez?  A starter or a reliever?  A strikeout artist or a control issue?

Well, he's got a ton of talent, whomever he is.  As a 27th round pick, he's the crown jewel of those who claim the Giants can find arms in places where no one else is looking.  Coming from Puerto Rico out of Ohio Dominican University, Sanchez has caught a lot of attention with his performance in the Caribbean Winter Leagues.

The good news is that Sanchez does not appear to have a long career of control problems.  In his one full season at one level, Sanchez threw only 39 walks in 125.2 innings at Augusta.  He also had low walk numbers in Connecticut before his promotion, walking just 9 in 31.1 innings.  That said, his 36 walks in 63.2 innings between Fresno and San Francisco in 2006, and his 6 starts in Salem-Keizer in 2004 (where he made 19 walks in 22.1 innings) are troubling.

Then there's the usual thing people look at with left-handed relievers: splits against left handed and right handed batters.  Sanchez's splits are not typical of a left-hander, as in the majors he was about as effective against both types of hitters.  In Double-A, his splits showed he was particularly vulnerable against left handers; in Triple-A, he was particularly strong against lefties.  This is because his stuff doesn't have the same type of horizontal movement as many southpaws, and doesn't move away from left handed batters.  His stuff is good and balanced.

But Sanchez's stuff is not just good; it's swing through and miss.  He has consistently gotten strikeouts at every level, and even had a respectable rate in the majors.  With a fastball in the low-90's and a good changeup, Sanchez plays a speed game with batters.  Many pitchers get by with less stuff by playing that game, but Sanchez has maximized it.  However, when it fails, Sanchez can be exposed.

Sanchez does throw a slider, but his low delivery makes that slider inconsistent.  If he can harness that pitch, he will become a much more effective candidate for a rotation spot.

That brings up an interesting conundrum the Giants are facing.  While the Giants signed Russ Ortiz to a major league contract, the 5th spot in the rotation is wide open and many think that Sanchez has a legitimate claim to that spot.  And he does, and his performance will be given a long look.

However, don't expect Sanchez to get it.  Even if he does do well in Spring Training, that slider is what his career could hinge on.  Without it, he's a one trick pony, and velocity is a trick that can disappear, both in short spurts and over time.  A slider, however, would give him something to rely on when his fastball velocity disappears, which it can do and has at times in his career.  If Sanchez can't get a hold of the slider, his future may be as a reliever, where his velocity changes can still be effective but will be less vulnerable if it goes away.

For that reason, Sanchez is a prime candidate to start the season in Triple-A.  If he does, don't be surprised if he puts up poorer than expected numbers.  If he's in Fresno, he'll be working on that slider, and it may not be effective right away.

Sanchez will be in the majors at some point in 2007, but he's still yet to determine if he'll be worthy of being a front-line starter, or a flamethrowing reliever, in the majors.

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