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Top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez: a refresher

Here’s another piece by one of our newest contributors, Alec Whitaker.

When it comes to building a top farm system, every major league general manager will tell you that the biggest key is acquiring young, talented arms through trades, the draft and international signings. Back in 2015, then general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his scouting department made an international signing for a 16-year-old pitcher named Sixto Sanchez. That signing has the possibility of being the biggest in Phillies history.

Why, you may ask?

Well Sanchez, now 19 years old, has exceeded the expectations of the Phillies and is one of the most intriguing prospects in all of baseball. He’s drawn comparisons to Pedro Martinez. Yes that Pedro Martinez. The comparisons between Sanchez and the three time Cy Young award winner aren’t coming out of left field; they may be more similar than you think. For starters, they are both considered greatly undersized for pitchers. Martinez was listed at 5’11” during his playing days, and Sanchez is currently listed at 6’0″. Both hail from the Dominican Republic. Sanchez throws hard, very hard: his fastball sits in the high 90s and he’s touched triple digits, just like Martinez did early in his career. Sanchez also has impressive command for his age, posting a career WHIP of 0.973 over three seasons in the lower levels of the minors, while Martinez had a 0.978 WHIP in 1991 for high-A Bakersfield and kept a relatively low WHIP throughout the minors. For his major league career, Martinez averaged 2.4 walks per nine innings, while Sanchez has averaged 1.6 walks per nine in his young career.

Now that I have you dreaming about the Phillies employing someone who has been compared to Martinez, let’s review his career to date.

Right after he was signed, Sanchez had a brief stint in the Dominican Summer League, posting a 4.56 ERA in 25.2 innings. The next season would be the righty’s coming out party. At age 17, Sanchez was sent to rookie ball and competed against the 2016 draft class, dominating the league while being 3.7 years younger than the average age. In 54 innings he posted a 0.50 ERA (three runs in 54 innings) with a WHIP of 0.759 and a K/BB rate of 44-8. At this time, Sanchez was the Phillies No. 29 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. Sanchez backed up this unbelievable season with a great start in low-A Ball last season, putting up a 2.41 ERA in 67.1 innings and posting a strikeout per nine rate of 8.6. Sanchez was moved to high-A late in the season, where he met some growing pains. In five starts, his ERA was 4.55 and his WHIP jumped to 1.301, though he didn’t often go too deep into games. These struggles should be helpful for Sanchez as he learns to adapt to advanced hitters, something he must do as he flies up the system and is younger and less experienced than most of the guys he’s facing.

If Sanchez continues to do what he did at the beginning of last year, he should be just fine. Working on improving his curveball will be crucial to his success as he faces more experienced hitters. Sanchez must also deal with the lofty expectations that come with now being the top Phillies prospect, not to mention being compared to his fellow countryman and hall of famer, Martinez. It would be unfair to the 19-year-old to truly buy into those comparisons, at least for now, but Sanchez definitely has the makings of a future ace.

The Phillies have been smart with their star teenager, limiting his workload so far (he often doesn’t go more than six innings per start). This year will be crucial as he goes deeper into games and seeks to get more advanced hitters out. He won’t turn 20 until late July, something that makes his advanced velocity and command even more impressive. If Sanchez improves in the weaker areas of his game and continues to do what has made him so dominant, it wouldn’t be far fetched to see him join Nola and Arrieta atop the Phillies rotation before his 22nd birthday, with him having the most upside of any pitcher in the Phillies organization, and maybe all of baseball.

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