A possible blueprint to justify Aaron Sanchez as a future closer


At 22-years-old, Toronto Blue Jays prospect Aaron Sanchez has turned heads with his seamless transition from top starting prospect to reliever during the stretch run for Toronto. In fact, his performance out of the Blue Jays bullpen has been so solid that it has lead many to question whether his role in the major leagues is still best served as a starter or if he has a future as a closer at the game’s highest level.

Maybe it isn’t such a bad  idea. And what if I told you that there was already a precedence for such a move?

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. When you have a top-40 prospect and on that could be a top of the rotation arm, you don’t convert him to a reliever. You sacrifice way too much value and potential by limiting his inning exposure to 3-4 a week rather than 12-14.

It makes absolutely no sense right?

Now we know that Toronto brought Sanchez up and placed him in the bullpen in order to give him exposure to Major League hitters while also limiting his innings, but the plan is still to give him a look at the rotation next spring. However, with R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, and Drew Hutchison likely penciled in next season, that leaves a competition between Sanchez and J.A. Happ for what is essentially one open slot.

Now Toronto could make a move this offseason to free up the room (trading pitching depth is never smart) or they could look to add a top of the rotation arm through free agency or a trade as well, further muddying the situation a bit. Maybe spending the winter gearing up for a bullpen role may be the best thing for Aaron Sanchez this offseason.

Okay now, put down the pitchforks, hear me out for a minute, and reserve judgment until after reading just a bit further.

To make my case, I’m going to pull a comparable player that has seen the same kind of conversion. We’ll call him Player A for now so that we don’t cloud anyone’s judgment. To get started, let’s look at a comparison between Player A and Aaron Sanchez as minor leaguers.

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As you can see, Player A (while spending less time in the minors) has a similar track record to Aaron Sanchez. Outside of the two relief appearances Sanchez made earlier this year in Buffalo, both were also used strictly in starting roles after reaching High-A ball. Both also made their Major League debuts at the age of 22-years-old and promptly took their big right arms to the bullpen.

Now, let’s take another look at these two pitchers in their first seasons with their respective clubs.

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This time around, we see that Sanchez is a bit more dominant, exhibiting a tremendous ground-ball rate of 67.1% compared to Player A’s 53.7%. However, Player A shows a much better tendency to generate swings and misses, something that continued in his next two season when he put up rates of 12.9 and 11.3 as his role became more defined. However, we do see that despite a bit of difference in those two key stats, both made a very smooth transition to the bullpen for their introduction to the majors.

Now that all said, the St. Louis Cardinals obviously saw something different in Trevor Rosenthal (formerly known as Player A). They liked his big fastball and wanted to give him the ability to just light it up in short stints. It was a move that worked out well for the Cardinals, a team that knows a little bit about player development. Rosenthal leads all of baseball with 44 saves in 2014 and has surrendered just 2 home runs in 67.1 innings of work this season.

Sep 12, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals relief pitcher Trevor Rosenthal (26) celebrates after getting the final out of the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Rosenthal was the 39th ranked prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2013 season, as a starter. Likewise, Sanchez was ranked 32nd prior to the 2014 season, also with future starter written onto his player profile.

If the Blue Jays do opt to utilize Sanchez in a relief role, they can only hope that they experience the success that the Cardinals had in converting Rosenthal. Now, it would take some heavy convincing for Alex Anthopoulos to suddenly pull the plug on Sanchez’s starting career, but would it be so completely out of the question, especially with Casey Janssen likely gone after this season?

How do you feel? Should Aaron Sanchez’s future be in the bullpen or at the top of the rotation?