Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto played in his second consecutive All-Star Game in July, but with all due respect to Realmuto, he hasn’t had the most impressive month of any player involved in the February blockbuster that allowed the Phillies to acquire him from the division-rival Miami Marlins.
In February of 2018, Bleacher Report‘s Danny Knobler spoke to an unnamed scout that called RHP Sixto Sanchez, then the Phillies No. 1 overall prospect, a “clone” of what Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had been in his late teenage years. He was qualified to give that assessment considering he had seen Martinez at age 19, the same age Sanchez was at that time. Even if that seemed like an unfair standard for a college-aged pitcher to live up to, it excited a fanbase that save for Cole Hamels and Aaron Nola, hadn’t seen many notable pitchers developed through their system in the last 25 years.
But instead of continuing to develop in the Phillies system, the Phillies cashed Sanchez in – along with catcher Jorge Alfaro, left-handed pitching prospect Will Stewart and $250,000 in international bonus money – ahead of the 2019 season. In their quest to build a team that was ready to contend immediately, the Phillies acquired Realmuto from the rebuilding Marlins.
Sanchez, who was limited to just eight starts in 2018 because of an elbow injury, said he cried when he was told he had been traded. But he’s gathered himself since, and the man once referred to as “the world’s most interesting pitching prospect” is starting to excite a fanbase that has largely been beaten down by bad baseball during their 27 seasons of existence.
After opening the season with the High-A Jupiter Hammerheads, Sanchez has made his last 13 starts for the Double-A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. Still just 20, Sanchez has gone 6-4 with a 3.20 ERA in his first 13 starts at Double-A.
Perhaps even scarier is that Sanchez has an outlier on his record in 2019 – he allowed eight earned runs in 3.2 innings against the Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, on July 2. That start, of course, counts just as much as the ones where he’s flashed front-line starting potential. However, in Sanchez’s 12 other starts at Double-A, he has a minuscule 2.36 ERA and has struck out 74 batters.
In the two starts prior to Sanchez’s one blemish, he struck out 19 batters across 14 innings. Since his first tribulation at Double-A, Sanchez has allowed just three earned runs in three starts. Tuesday, Sanchez, now the Marlins No. 1 overall prospect, turned in a dominant outing against the Biloxi Shuckers (the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate), as he allowed just two hits and struck out nine across seven scoreless innings.
If there’s such a thing as a win/win blockbuster trade with a division-rival, the Realmuto-Sanchez trade may have been that. Even in what’s been a relatively disappointing offensive campaign, Realmuto was an All-Star in 2019 and the 28 would-be basestealers that he’s thrown out may propel him to a Gold Glove Award. Even if this is as good as it gets for Realmuto as a Phillie, the Phillies got one of the five best catchers in the sport. The Phillies certainly have seen a better return on their major offseason trade investment than, say, the New York Mets, who are already willing to consider trade offers for Edwin Diaz and have gotten a -0.1 fWAR from Robinson Cano.
Still, safe probably isn’t a good way to look at the Realmuto-Sanchez trade. There’s a very real chance that if Realmuto stays with the Phillies past the 2020 season – which he can become a free-agent after – he’ll end up in the discussion for greatest catcher in Phillies history. But if the cost to acquire that was trading a 20-year-old future front-line pitcher to a division-rival – when you are a team thin on impact arms – history may not view the trade in a favorable way for the the Phillies.
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