It was three years ago today that Phillies GM Pat Gillick pulled the trigger on a deal to send outfielder Bobby Abreu to the Yankees for infielder C.J. Henry, catcher Jesus Sanchez and pitchers Carlos Monasterios and Matt Smith. The deal has been widely criticized as many believe the Phillies simply didn't get enough in return for Abreu, but for Gillick, the deal dumped salary that gave him the flexibility to start reloading the major league squad. And, it's actually a little early to tell whether or not the deal was a good one, thanks to the transformation of Jesus Sanchez.
When the deal was made, Sanchez was highly touted by scouts. He was on the small side - 5' 11", 160 pounds - for a catcher, but he was also just 18 years old. As it turned out, Sanchez simply couldn't hit and after enduring almost two full seasons of watching him struggle at the plate, the Phillies decided to remake Jesus Sanchez. The pulled him off the Lakewood BlueClaws roster, where he was hitting .186, and took him down to Clearwater to start to work on learning a new craft; pitching. Sanchez actually pitched just one inning in the Gulf Coast League last season, but continued working in the Florida Instructional League and by this past Spring, the Phillies felt confident enough in his abilities to send him to Lakewood to start the season as a member of the 'Claws pitching rotation.
Now, Sanchez has a better chance of reaching the majors than he ever had as a catcher.
The progression has gone very well and has gone faster than a lot of people thought that it might. Remember, not only did Sanchez need to learn how to pitch, but he had to learn and adopt the training routine that goes along with pitching and he's been a quick study. The Phillies made the transition a little easier by making Sanchez a starter, giving him a chance to have a more structured routine than relievers get to experience. "It helped a lot to establish a routine. You run some days and you lift some days and you have time to rest your arm," explained Sanchez. "It helped a lot too, because you can set your mind that you're going to pitch on a certain day."
Early in the season, Sanchez lacked confidence and was trying to be too perfect on the mount. The result was a ton of walks [15 walks in his first 23 innings] and a 5.48 ERA over that span. Slowly, but surely, Sanchez turned things around and since June 1, he's walked just 13 hitters in 57 2/3 innings and has a 6-1, 2.34 mark to show for the improvement. During his early struggles, Sanchez started to see that pitching is more than just striking out hitters and found out why he has fielders behind him on the field. "Just throw the ball and make the hitters hit the ball and let the guys behind you make the plays," explained Sanchez about how he faces hitters now, as opposed to when he was trying to be too perfect on the mound. "They [baserunners] steal bases, get a base hit and move over and they're going to get runs. It helps a lot to keep them off base."
Another key lesson that the Phillies have drummed into Sanchez ever since he took to the mound is setting a consistent tempo for himself, both in terms of arm speed and delivering his pitches. Like most young pitchers, Sanchez had a tendency to change his arm speed depending on which pitch he was throwing and he didn't seemed too concerned with setting his own pace on the mound. But after constant preaching from coaches, including Lakewood pitching coach Bob Milacki, Sanchez has learned what tempo is all about.
"I've really had to work on keeping my rhythm and having the same arm speed with all of my pitches," said Sanchez.
The other players involved in the Bobby Abreu deal haven't brought much excitement to the Phillies organization. Left-hander Matt Smith pitched in 23 major league games for the Phillies, but developed elbow problems and went down with Tommy John surgery during the 2007 season. Smith pitched in the Gulf Coast League and at Clearwater last season, but is now out of affiliated ball. C.J. Henry played two seasons at Lakewood, hitting .199 before leaving baseball to pursue a basketball career. Last season, basketball wasn't working out either and he was re-signed by the Yankees, hitting .234 in the Florida State League, but he too is out of affiliated ball now.
Besides Sanchez, Carlos Monasterios is the only player standing from the Abreu deal. His development has been slow, but he's pitching well at Clearwater this season (4-4, 3.15) and has moved to the bullpen. Monasterios is still just 23 years old, so there's a chance that he could make something out of his career, just as there is for Sanchez.