At last, the only piece remaining of the once imagined triumvirate was promoted to the Blue Jays in 2014. Everything Jays fans dreamt of since trading away top pitching prospects Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino came to fruition for Aaron Sanchez to the point where he has created himself a conundrum concerning his future role in a Jays uniform.
Sanchez was promoted July 22nd to help a labouring bullpen during a time where the thought of October baseball wasn’t completely ludicrous (too soon?) and pitched effectively in his uncharacteristic role. His success has lead many Jays fans and journalists to demand he remain in the bullpen next season to help bolster what was one of the weakest areas for the Jays in 2014. Will he? Should he? That’s a question everyone will debate this off-season but for now, here’s the year that was for once top prospect Aaron Sanchez.
The good in Sanchez isn’t hard to find. All one really has to do is Google his name and look at the plethora of articles written about him while taking a glance at his stat line. In essence, the good for Sanchez was 2014.
In 33 innings, Sanchez was lights out for the Jays in crucial situations deep into ball games. His ERA was a minuscule 1.09, he averaged 7.36 K/9 innings and his walk rate, typically his achilles heal, was only 2.45 per nine innings. In his 24 relief appearances he managed to collect 1.5 WAR according to Baseball Reference’s measures.
These numbers were achieved thanks to his deadly arsenal that contains a fastball topping at 97 mph along with a curveball which, although yet to be fully developed, is enough to catch major league hitters off balance creating outs. He has demonstrated some feel for a change-up but this seems to be a pitch that is still in the development stage.
While the 2014 season was blessed with Sanchez’s arrival, it will be interesting to see if the young hurler can sustain this level of excellence in a larger sample size either as a starter or reliever in 2015.
As you can imagine, this section isn’t very expansive. The only thing Sanchez could have done that he didn’t do in 2014 was stay in the role he was developed as: a starter. This is no fault of his own. Sanchez pitching in the bullpen, with success, could be detrimental to his future for two reasons, the second which could impact the value of his career.
First off, Sanchez’s time in the bullpen has certainly influenced his arsenal and pitch selection on the mound as it does with most starters who temporarily pitch out of the pen’. The problem with this for Sanchez is that his reliance on his dominating fastball has stunted the growth of his secondary pitches which he will need if he wants to become a top of the rotation starter. In 2014, Sanchez relied on his fastball 88% of the time, throwing his off-speed pitches only 12 % of the time. If Sanchez is to become a dominant top of the rotation starting pitcher in 2015, he’s going to have to develop and rely on his off-speed pitches more to keep hitters off balance over the course of an entire game.
This is where Sanchez’s bullpen success could hamper him again. Through his success and the Jays desperate bullpen needs, a controversy has emerged. The debate has begun over whether to keep Sanchez in the pen or to cement him in the rotation. This debate is ridiculous for his long-term value as a Blue Jay.
Almost every relief pitcher who’s ever marched out of the bullpen has been a failed starter. Even the great Mariano Rivera. Aaron Sanchez, thus far, has not. By putting him permanently in the bullpen, you’re only going to see the trailer to what should be an incredible movie. If you put him in the pen, you effectively have turned what could have been a 4-5 WAR pitcher into that of a 1-2 WAR pitcher in his prime.
Thus, for the Jays to get the most value out of the young right-hander, they have to try him as a starter. If all else fails he can return to his comfortable seat atop the left field fence at the Rogers Centre. However, if his relief experience is any glimpse into what could be for the young pitcher, I can’t wait to see what 25 starts and 150+ innings could bring the kid and the club come 2015.