Baez, Sanchez Continue Pitching Conversion

If at first you don't succeed, change positions. That's the approach that the Phillies are taking with two prospects that simply weren't going to pan out as position players and the transformation continues in Florida.

To be completely honest, both Welinson Baez and Jesus Sanchez have been a disappointment. Both came to the Phillies with high expectations that they would help the big league club down the road.

The Phillies signed Baez as an amateur free agent in August of 2002 and he was sent to the Gulf Coast League for the 2003 season. At the time, he was thought to be part of the Phillies future at third base, or that he might possibly move to another spot on the infield, but he was certainly going to provide the Phillies with a nice, young prospect to watch move up through the ranks.

Knowing that the 18 year old was more than just a little rough around the edges, the Phillies urged patience. They termed him as a "project" and a "work in progress", but always stressed that they thought he would have a fine future with the organization. After three seasons in the GCL, what they had was a .243 hitter who hadn't shown quite the defensive abilities that they had figured on him providing. They did see enough progress though to send him to Batavia, where he hit .324 in 45 games as a shortstop and seemed to have mastered his game.

From there though, things sputtered badly.

A move to Lakewood in 2006 exposed all of Baez's weaknesses all over again and his average sank back to .232 and his move back to third base led to 32 errors.

Showing confidence in him, the Phillies pushed him along to Clearwater and once again, he was in over his head. Baez had made 15 errors in 32 games and produced just a .238 average, prompting his return to Lakewood. His confidence was seemingly shattered by that point and he managed just a .219 average with the BlueClaws through the rest of the season.

As the players assembled in Clearwater this past Spring, Baez was certainly not considered a top prospect and his spot in the organization was in jeopardy. The Phillies decided to place him back with Clearwater, partly because he would be closer to the Phillies minor league camp, so many of the team's top brass could easily take turns keeping an eye out for any progress that was being made. When calendars turned to June, Baez was struggling around the Mendoza Line and the Phillies decided that he was no longer an option at third base or anywhere else for that matter, because he couldn't hit.

One thing that had always impressed the Phillies was just how strong Baez's arm was. It wasn't always accurate, but it was definitely strong. That's when the light bulb went off.

Baez was taken off the Clearwater roster and sent to Extended Spring Training to learn how to pitch. The adjustments were made and Baez was basically taught from the beginning. Eventually, he learned how to throw a couple different pitches, but the emphasis was always on making sure that his mechanics stayed pure to try to reign in that strong arm to the point where it was potent, but still accurate. By the end of August, the Phillies decided to roll Baez out for at least one game on the mound and he made his pitching debut for the GCL Phillies on August 27, throwing one shutout inning and allowing just one hit.

The road for Jesus Sanchez has been much different. The Yankees had some glimpse that he might be on the downside of prospect status when they agreed to include him in a deal with the Phillies that sent Bobby Abreu to the Yankees.

Like most teams, the Phillies were always in the market for a young catcher and they liked the way Sanchez handled himself behind the plate. When Sanchez came to the Phillies, he was a 19 year old in his second season of pro ball, but had a career average of just .212 in the Yankees organization. The Phillies tend to like catchers more for their defense and how they handle pitchers than for their offense and they figured that Sanchez would hit enough to hold his own and give them another catching option for the future.

As with Baez, Sanchez proved to be anything but an option for the future and in two seasons in the GCL, he hit just .233, but a paltry .205 in the Phillies organization.

Perhaps it was an attempt to show that the Phillies were going to get something out of the Bobby Abreu deal or perhaps, the Phillies just took a leap of faith, but in 2008, the Phillies moved Sanchez to Low-A Lakewood to start the season. In early July, Sanchez had played 35 games and had been unable to lift his average above .200 for even a day. Again, much like with Baez, the Phillies decided that Sanchez simply was not going to be a prospect for them.

Just a month earlier, Baez's conversion to pitching had begun and it was actually going pretty well. Noting that Sanchez had a good arm and had spent a lot of time working with pitchers, the Phillies decided to do another conversion.

Sanchez also took to the move and started to show promise in Extended Spring Training. Before the season was over, the Phillies wanted to get him into one game with the GCL club and on August 26 - one day before Baez would get his shot - Sanchez took the mound in relief, throwing one shutout inning, allowing just a walk.

Both Baez and Sanchez are going to continue working on their new careers in the Florida Instructional League. While nothing is certain with either of these newly converted pitchers, both have embraced the role and both have showed some promise as pitchers. With Sanchez coming up on his 21st birthday and Baez having celebrated his 24th this past Summer, both are a little old to be just starting their careers as pitchers. The hope is that they can move quickly enough to at least get consideration as pitching prospects, but time won't necessarily be on their side.

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