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June 2, 2014

Notes from the Field

Studying Aaron Sanchez

by Chris Mellen

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Over the course of a season, I like to get multiple looks at a starting pitcher prospect as a baseline for establishing developmental trends and gauging progression. Similar to when sitting on a position player prospect for a series or stretch of games, there can be variability from look to look in regards to what you see. It’s possible, for instance, that in an isolated appearance a pitcher is working on one particular pitch or certain aspect of his game that doesn’t reveal the full scope of his arsenal. Or, the arm just doesn’t have it, for whatever reason, on a given night. It’s important when building the book to be able to reference reports from various points in time to compare, contrast, and look for clues that assist with making projections.

Aaron Sanchez entered the season high on my radar, and I knew I’d get plenty of opportunities to see him over the course of 2014 given his assignment to the Eastern League. As things would line up, I was able to catch Sanchez three times over the course of the first six weeks of the season, and build a solid base on which to follow up deeper into the schedule.

First report: April 15th.
The initial look at Sanchez showed premium raw stuff, especially his fastball and curveball. Both pitches can be very nasty on hitters. However, an area of need quickly emerged during the look: the consistency of the pitcher’s fastball command.

Second report: May 3rd.
The outing where Sanchez’s fastball looked the best gave a glimpse of what the pitch can do when executed properly. It’s downright overpowering when thrown from the thighs down and in the lower tier. A developmental pattern also began to show in this start, in that the prospect featured nothing but fastballs the first trip through the order.

Third report: May 10th.
The pattern continued of all fastballs the first trip through the order, but Sanchez had very little feel for his heater and paid for his wildness. The lack of consistency with the pitch is a concern. On the plus side, the pitcher’s changeup showed the best action of my three looks, and the curveball continued to demonstrate legit big-league out-pitch potential

Conclusion: Sanchez’s raw stuff shines when on the mound, but his rough edges and needs equally stand out. This arm is very much a work in progress, presently. Between the hard, heavy action of his fastball and crisp, deep break to the curveball his repertoire can dominate a lineup and should continue to do so as he advances. But the inconsistent fastball command within the zone and bouts of wildness leave doubts as to whether the full potential will be maximized over the long run. The delivery looks to have limitations when it comes to his ability to consistently throw downhill. The follow-up looks deeper into the year will serve as chances to evaluate what kind of progress is being made.

Chris Mellen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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