In a somewhat surprising piece of news today, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca reported that the Toronto Blue Jays were promoting their top prospect, starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez, from Double-A New Hampshire to Triple-A Buffalo.
Sanchez has been the Blue Jays’ consensus top prospect since 2013 when Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud were traded away to the New York Mets. Sanchez, a supplemental round pick in 2010, was selected 34th overall and has been universally lauded for his filthy, three-pitch combination of a 96-98 mph fastball that combines with one of the best curveballs in the minor leagues and a solid, 88-90 mph changeup. Most scouts feel that the amount of movement that Sanchez’s pitches has contributes to his control problems.
The surprise comes because Sanchez, who turns 22 on July 1, hasn’t been dominating his Double-A opponents the ways some prospect evaluators would like to see. After what was considered a mediocre year in High-A Dunedin last year (and a solid turn in the Arizona Fall League), Sanchez has reverted to putting up similar numbers to 2013 this year, albeit at a higher level (Double-A).
Last year, Sanchez posted a 3.34 ERA (3.67 FIP) with a 1.19 WHIP in 86 1/3 innings with Dunedin. His innings were kept at that fairly low mark because of pitch counts and an arm injury that the Blue Jays were very careful with. His peripheral numbers were somewhat concerning as Sanchez’s strikeout rate dropped to a career-low 20.8% and his walk rate, while lower than it had been at any stop since 2011, was still very high at 11.1%.
After a very strong turn in MLB spring training (0 runs in 15 1/3 innings with 10 hits, six walks and 11 strikeouts) that got a lot of people in Toronto excited about Sanchez’s arrival, he hasn’t been as strong as some would like in Double-A. This year, Sanchez’s ERA is 3.82 in 66 innings for the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and his FIP is even higher at 4.24. With a 20.0% strikeout rate and 14.0% walk rate, Sanchez’s peripherals are trending the wrong way in some people’s eyes.
His last two starts have been very good, going 11 2/3 innings with nine hits and three walks against, striking out 14 and allowing only three runs but they come just one start removed from a miserable outing against the Portland Sea Dogs on May 24 in which he didn’t get anyone out and allowed six runs (three earned) on four walks and a hit batter (and another runner who reached on an error).
What does this mean for the Buffalo Bisons? Sanchez’s promotion bolsters an injury-plagued pitching staff that has seen a lot of movement lately. Starter Ricky Romero is on the DL while Radhames Liz went back down to New Hampshire earlier in the week. With 2010 #11 overall pick Deck McGuire already in Buffalo (and pitching well), Sanchez will join him, Sean Nolin (who is scheduled to throw tonight), Kyle Drabek and Liam Hendriks in the rotation.
This move also makes good on the Blue Jays’ promise that they would make sure to get quality players in Buffalo to help them make the playoffs every year. This promise, plus the attendance boost that the Bisons get from their proximity to Toronto (just two hours away by car), has made the Buffalo/Toronto relationship one of the best in minor league baseball.
The biggest question that comes to the fore for Aaron Sanchez’s Triple-A debut, possibly Friday night in Toledo (according to Buffalo News’s Mike Harrington), is whether Triple-A hitters will be able to lay off the pitches outside of the strike zone. Sanchez’s stuff could carry the day but older, wiser hitters in Triple-A could very well make Sanchez come into the strike zone more. Either way, it will be fascinating to watch!