With John fucking Farrell on his way to the World Series, last week wasn’t exactly the time that I was itching to address the struggles and the not-so-glowing reports on the Jays’ top prospect, Aaron Sanchez, who is pitching in Arizona Fall League this month, making up for time lost during the middle of the season with blister troubles, and with the club being extra cautious about arm problems. But I certainly wouldn’t want to be accused (by morons) of trying to sweep away a troublesome report by not addressing it– and I certainly wouldn’t want to not get this stuff written about before Sanchez’s arm falls off, which could be as soon Wednesday, when he’s due to make his next AFL start!
OK, maybe it’s not quite that dire. But the Jays– assuming they’re not working to change things– and Keith Law certainly don’t see eye-to-eye on where the potential ace’s mechanics are at.
At the beginning of last week’s Behind the Dish podcast– which is a must listen, as it also features Dirk Hayhurst– Law explained:
If you check the site tomorrow– that’s Wednesday, I guess depending on when you’re listening to it– I’ll have another column up, listing ten guys who performed in a way, or showed skills that disappointed me somehow. They did not meet my expectations in Fall League, and I’m a little lower on them than I was a year ago– leading off with Aaron Sanchez from Toronto, who I love, and have always loved him. I thought he was better than Noah Syndergaard when they were both in the same organization, but the truth is, Syndergaard looks better at this point, delivery-wise, whereas Sanchez has clearly taken a step backwards. Toronto has made some adjustments to his mechanics. The stuff is good, the command isn’t there, and now I’m starting to get worried about potential arm injury– which is not something I would have said about Sanchez six or nine months ago.
He elaborated during last week’s KLawchat at ESPN.com:
The Dude (Hartford, CT )
Sanchez for the Jays breaks out next year.
I hope you’re right, as he’s a great kid with absurdly good stuff, but the shorter stride and more upright finish are real concerns. The Jays have not had a good track record with young arms recently; this may be a window into why.
In the actual post at ESPN.com (Insider only) he notes that Sanchez, who has never had a Casey Janssen-like stride towards the plate, is now working with a “shorter-than-ever” one, coupled with a too-upright torso. The latter, he explains not only impacts his command, but “an upright torso at release is also correlated with higher risk of arm injuries.”
There is some interesting video of Sanchez’s outing last week posted over at Baseball America, in which he certainly does look short-striding, upright, and not making good use of his lower half, but I think that’s pretty easy to see when you know what you’re looking for. On YouTube there is a clip from MLB Prospect Portal that was taken in Spring Training 2012, where– despite the difficulty in sorting out the difference in angles, in addition to my amateurism when it comes to what precisely to focus in on– you can see something isn’t quite the same. He appears more upright at the point when the ball is about to be released, and also at the point when his back leg lands– for whatever that’s worth– but it’s subtle. So subtle, in fact, that I should probably note that the AFL shots are on the left below, and the ones from Spring 2012 at the right.
As far the command issues go, if you just go by walks, it looked like Sanchez may have taken a step in the right direction this year. Pitching a level up, he tossed four fewer innings than he did in 2012, and yet issued eleven fewer walks– 40 as opposed to 51. Perhaps the issue, then, is that while he was better, he wasn’t better enough, and the command is really the thing that everybody’s been waiting to take a step forward. His strikeout rates taking a step backwards probably isn’t a great thing either, as he sat down just 75 in 86.1 innings, compared to 97 in 90.1 innings last year.
It’s also worth noting that, over the course of the season, perhaps as these changes started to take better hold, Sanchez got worse. He was also, let’s not forget, coming off an injury that kept him out of action from mid-May to mid-June– and he also was less of an unknown quantity at the end than he was in his first month in the league– but it’s still somewhat striking to see that in April and May he faced 170 batters, holding them to a .445 OPS in the season’s first month, and .514 in the second, walking 16 and striking out 37. In July and August he faced 167 batters, with monthly OPS marks of .933 and .584 respectively, walking 21 and striking out 32.
Parceling out the month-by-month numbers like that isn’t exactly ideal, and the poor July coincided with his trying to pitch through a blister problem, but still… none of this stuff is particularly good. Definitely something to keep our eyes on. Though, at least fixable, it would seem. At least, according to a question further down in Law’s chat back on Thursday:
Still Sanchez over Syndergaard? I know you go based on ceiling, but does probability start to factor in now?
No, I can’t stay with that, seeing Sanchez’ delivery and potential injury risk. Syndergaard doesn’t have Sanchez’ offspeed stuff, but he has to be as low a risk for an arm injury as any major starter prospect in baseball. Fix Sanchez and we can talk again.
So… OK. The notion that it can be fixed, plus the subtlety of the difference– at least to my somewhat hopeful eye– doesn’t make it seem maybe quite as bad as the all the initial consternation made it seem. The deeper issue, of course, is how the Jays could have allowed the one prospect who so much of their organizational hopes are riding on to have fallen into pitching mechanics that scream “red flag” so loudly to someone like Law. The next question, then, is whether there are others who share his concern– and if so, why they don’t work for the Jays, or why aren’t they being listened to?
Here’s the clip of Sanchez throwing last week, via Baseball America:
Image via MiLB Prospective.