Phillies promote pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez to Clearwater
The Florida State League will offer a better proving ground for Sanchez's breaking pitches, a change-up and curveball, which still have room for growth.
DENVER — Sixto Sanchez possesses an arm that can tempt even the most reserved baseball man, and that is the constant allure of the young Dominican pitcher. It is tempting to think about what he can become. It is tempting to think about fast-tracking him to the majors. It is tempting to think about how everything else could fall into place around him.
"We understand this is a young kid who is relatively new to pitching and has an electric arm," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Friday. "We're committed to doing the right thing for his own development. Right now, we're focused on managing the workload, but also making sure he's properly challenged."
That is why Sanchez, who turned 19 last week, will start Saturday night for high-A Clearwater. There was nothing left for him to accomplish in the South Atlantic League. So the Phillies promoted the teenager.
He'll finish the season — his first full professional season — in the Florida State League.
Sanchez has emerged this season as one of the top arms in the minor leagues. He made 13 starts with low-A Lakewood and posted a 2.41 ERA. He struck out 64 and walked nine in 67 1/3 innings. Just one of the 256 batters he faced hit a home run. Opponents batted .191 against him with a total of 10 extra-base hits in 241 at-bats.
It was time for a new test.
"In the South Atlantic League, he can pitch off his fastball and get through lineups pretty easily," Klentak said. "Moving to the Florida State League, he'll need to use his secondary stuff more. It's a good developmental challenge for him."
The Phillies have handled Sanchez, a Dominican righthander who signed for $35,000, with caution. He remains far from the majors and is inexperienced. They have capped his innings; if he pitches five innings in each of his remaining starts for Clearwater, he could last until the very end of the minor-league season.
Sanchez throws his fastball in the high 90s and can hit triple digits with the pitch, a pitch that he commands well even with the extreme velocity. Clearwater is a better proving ground for his breaking pitches, a change-up and curveball, which can improve.
The promotion is an aggressive one. Sanchez will be the youngest starting pitcher in the entire Florida State League.
The most recent comparable is Julio Urias, who reached the majors with Los Angeles a few months before his 20th birthday. He pitched 100 1/3 innings with the Dodgers last season and this before he succumbed to a major shoulder injury. Urias underwent left anterior capsule surgery in June. He is expected to miss 12-14 months, and how his arm will respond from a rare procedure is unknown.
The Dodgers exerted an abundance of caution in handling Urias. It could be a blueprint for how the Phillies map Sanchez's climb. Urias, a Mexican lefthander, pitched 54 1/3 innings in low-A ball during his first pro season. Sanchez arrived to America a year older than Urias was; Sanchez pitched 54 innings last season in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Urias, in his second minor-league season, totaled 87 2/3 innings at high-A ball. Sanchez, right now, could top that number between Lakewood and Clearwater by the time 2017 is complete.
Both pitchers are listed at 6 feet tall, although Sanchez is smaller than that. Sanchez and Urias share an agent, Scott Boras, who found no fault in the Dodgers' roadmap for Urias in the aftermath of his the shoulder trauma.
Klentak said he expects Sanchez to begin 2018 at Clearwater, so the late-season bump will help him gain some comfort. That could put Sanchez to double-A Reading before next season is finished. Those are lofty expectations, but Sanchez has so far eclipsed everything else in his brief pro career.