The Arizona Fall League wrapped up over the weekend, with the Surprise Sagueros beating the Mesa Solar Sox for the title, while Cubs prospect Kris Bryant took home the league’s MVP award. For Jays fans, however, the main attraction (with apologies to the ridiculously fun Marcus Stroman) was Aaron Sanchez, and after a somewhat rocky start– notably including some sharp criticism from Keith Law, who continued to stand by his mechanical concerns in his Thursday chat at ESPN.com– the club’s top prospect finished up on a very high note.
No, the box score of his final AFL outing wasn’t his most impressive, but… that actually probably speaks to how impressive he’s been over the course of the last five weeks. He worked five innings on Thursday, bringing his AFL total to over 23, and his full-year total to almost 110. Over those innings he gave up six hits, two walks, and struck out three. His final strikeout and walk totals were 21 and 11, for a K/BB of 1.91, which is exactly in line with the rates he put up in Dunedin this year and Lansing last season. On a positive note, however, four of those walks came in his first five AFL innings, in which he also struck out just two. After that point he put up 19 Ks over 18.1 innings with “just” seven walks– a K/BB of 2.71 in a sample I could generously call “ridiculously tiny,” but that also maybe gives us a little hope.
His success, though, goes beyond stats– which is probably a good thing, given what little value we’d want to place on AFL stats anyway, especially in such small samples, and especially without context. For example, a comment left on our last Sanchez post came from a reader who says that he was in the ballpark for Sanchez’s last Fall League start (everything [sic]‘d):
I was at the game today so instead of a box score and a bunch of numbers I will tell you what I saw. Of the six hits today 2 were bunts in the 5th inning, 2 hits were on pitches batters could not get around on an were blooped to the opposite field. He was only hit solidly on three occasions and one was a line drive to first which ended up to be a double play. There were 4 double plays in his 5 innings pitched the other 3 on ground balls, nice to see when you have guys on base. Was only able to see the rader gun from a scout in the first inning on every pitch but he was throwing easy 95 – 96. One of the hits was on the first curve he threw that just hung and was laced into the field. After that it was just nasty he was throwing to both right and left handed batters with a couple of the right handers bailing out and one third strike to a left handed batter that just gave up on the pitch and looked real embarrassed when it fell in for a strike. His change of speed was incredible throwing some off speed stuff at 87-88. One curve he threw to strike a guy out with came in at 83 (shouted out to all the scouts what was the speed 3 yelled back with the number and all looked very impressed. I am not a any kind of baseball expert but from what I saw today this guy looks like a real keeper.
Of course, there were words from professionals, too.
Therron Brockish of Baseball America ($) posted a video of some of Sanchez’s recent work, and while he raised the spectre of a bullpen role, it was at least a reference to his floor:
He’s got the stuff to be a No. 2 starter in the majors. His hits-allowed-to-innings-pitched ratio in the minors is outstanding. He’s got more than one strikeout pitch and is going to get some swings-and-misses. If he can get his command and improve his breaking ball just one notch, he will definitely be a front-line starter. If not, he still has the stuff to be a starter or even a closer at the major league level. I think he has enough of a repertoire to be starter. He should be in Double-A next summer at 21 and possibly compete to make the club out of spring training. Realistically, he starts the 2014 season in the minors with the possibility of being called up due to an injury or need at the major league level.
Another one comes from former Baseball America man, Jim Callis, who is now with the MLB Network and MLB.com, and contrasted Sanchez with his Thursday opponent, Giants prospect Kyle Crick:
Sanchez threw five no-hit innings in his last start and had held AFL opponents to a .088 average previously, but the Scorpions touched him for six hits in five innings. He gave up just one run, in part because he had four runners erased on double plays and a fifth got caught stealing. He only had three strikeouts versus two walks, though he did hit the strike zone with 49 of his 79 pitches.
Nevertheless, Sanchez was slightly more impressive than Crick.
While he didn’t throw quite as hard, Sanchez still generated well above-average velocity and did it more easily. There’s nothing glaring about Crick’s delivery, but Sanchez’s is smoother and gives him a better chance to make the control and command improvements both pitchers need. He also displayed a true breaking ball and a changeup that should give him a third plus offering.
Callis added that he thinks Sanchez has “a better chance to fully realize his potential” than the Giants’ top prospect, though he says that both Sanchez and Crick “have the upside of frontline starters.”
Callis’s MLB.com colleague, Bernie Pleskoff, wrote a companion piece to the Sanchez video I posted back on Thursday, and speaks to the issues he had in his early Fall League outings, suggesting he was a bit rusty in the early going– however, “fast-forward from that first start in early October to the first week in November, and Sanchez looked completely different.
Taking the mound with an aura of confidence, Sanchez is finding a rhythm and flow to his mechanics that have allowed him to throw strikes and induce swings and misses — lots of swings and misses. Using a fastball that has hit 94 mph with regularity and an occasional 96 mph for good measure, Sanchez is now setting up hitters by using both corners and pitching up and down, changing eye levels with regularity.
Sanchez is showing enough control and command of his high-velocity fastball that he is confident in “climbing the ladder” on the hitter and throwing his four-seam fastball in the hitter’s eyes. Too tempted to lay off a pitch they can see, the hitters are regularly swinging through the pitch. It’s a very effective weapon.
As if the high heat isn’t enough, Sanchez is not shy about pitching inside. In fact, in the fifth inning of a recent game I saw, he hit a batter and rattled his own confidence as a result. The only blemish in Sanchez’s five-inning no-hit performance was an error and that hit batsman.
Fluid and able to finish his pitches from an upright position on the mound, Sanchez shows a bit more struggle pitching from the stretch. Still too upright in my view, and not getting the advantage of pitching downhill, Sanchez is more tentative from the stretch.
So… there’s good and there’s bad. And there’s more! So go read Pleskoff’s full piece– plus all the other ones I’ve quoted here.