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July 23, 2014

The Call-Up

Aaron Sanchez

by Mark Anderson and Ben Carsley

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The Situation: As the Blue Jays strive to hang around the playoff race, their bullpen needed support and the club opted to look for that in the form of their top prospect. Sanchez will arrive in Toronto to fill a relief role in the middle innings.

Background: A supplemental pick in the 2010 draft, Sanchez has moved steadily through the Blue Jays' system since signing that summer. After two seasons spending time in the rookie and short-season leagues, Sanchez made his full-season debut with Lansing in 2012, posting a 2.49 ERA in 90 1/3 innings. The success continued in High-A in 2013 with a 3.34 ERA at just 20 years old. Sanchez reached the upper levels in 2014, showing flashes of brilliance and bouts of inconsistency with Double-A New Hampshire to start the season. After notching a 3.82 ERA in 14 starts, Sanchez was promoted to Triple-A Buffalo where he's had up and down ride and a 4.19 ERA.

Scouting Report: In three viewings this summer, I have seen the highs and the lows that Sanchez has to offer. He can be frustrating, flashing dominating raw stuff at times but struggling to find the strike zone at others.

At his best, Sanchez consistently shows a mid-90s fastball that peaks at 97 to 98 mph. He backs it up with a plus-plus curveball. It's one of the best breaking balls I have seen at Double-A in the last two years. When right, he attacks hitters directly with his two premium pitches and dominates even experienced batters.

Sanchez has the ability to vary the speed and shape of his curve, showing a slower, 12-to-6 breaker as well as a harder, tighter pitch with a slight horizontal element that he can move around the zone or bury in the dirt. Both are effective, but his ability to mix and match the variations based on feel and situation is what makes them truly impressive.

For all the success he can generate with his fastball and curveball, Sanchez still needs significant development with his changeup and control. He is too firm with the changeup, overthrowing it consistently and leaving it up in the zone. In three outings, I only saw a handful with even average potential. The pitch is well below average at present and only projects to the fringe level at best.

Despite being a very good athlete, Sanchez still struggles to repeat all parts of his delivery, particularly after the balance point, leading to frequent control problems. He rarely affords himself the luxury of working ahead in the count. Sanchez is still young and has time to straighten out his control profile, but I have a hard time seeing better than average control and fringe command down the road.

All told, Sanchez has two knockout pitches that will allow him to be successful in a major-league rotation, but he lacks the changeup and strike-throwing to profile as a front-line starter. Once established in the big leagues, he should provide very good mid-rotation performance and could have streaks where he dominates teams when his entire arsenal works at peak levels.

Immediate Impact: Sanchez is unlikely to have a major impact on the Blue Jays' playoff chances because his opportunities will be limited: He recently passed 100 innings pitched, and the Blue Jays' goal is to keep him around 130 for the season. That said, given the struggles of their bullpen, any quality arms will help at this point. Sanchez should be able to dominate burst outings on the back of his fastball and curve alone, and it should help him learn what it takes to put away big-league hitters as he looks toward a larger role in 2015. —Mark Anderson

Fantasy Impact: The immediate move to make is simple: Leave him on the waiver wire. It's true that his ultimate upside as a high-strikeout mid-rotation starter makes him an attractive fantasy prospect, and he's appeared on several iterations of Bret Sayre's Top Dynasty League Prospects lists. But for now, Sanchez is just another non-closer, and while he's likely to post some gaudy strikeout numbers, his lack of impact in any other category will make him irrelevant in non-holds leagues.

Sanchez is a high-profile prospect and so was likely already owned in dynasty leagues, but for those of you in dynasty leagues where you can't pick up players until they reach the majors, Sanchez is worth a significant bid. Yes, his control issues are scary, and yes, his contextual factors (bad home ballpark, AL East) deflate his value. But this is still a live-arm pitcher who's capable of notching 200-plus strikeouts in a season or two. He'll never carry you in WHIP and might only be a solid ERA play, but that's a valuable commodity nonetheless.

The question of what to do with Sanchez will be much more interesting a year from now, when the right-hander may be in the big-league rotation. He doesn't deserve to be chopped from your list of long-term high-upside starters, but he doesn’t warrant much further thought in mixed fantasy leagues this year, either. —Ben Carsley

Mark Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mark's other articles. You can contact Mark by clicking here
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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