Blue Jays: Aaron Sanchez and Minor League Memories

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JULY 17: Starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the bottom of the first inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - JULY 17: Starting pitcher Aaron Sanchez #41 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the bottom of the first inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 17, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images) /

Aaron Sanchez was once part of a talented trio of MiLB pitchers in the Blue Jays’ system. Let’s have a look at his tenure in Toronto’s system.

This past week the Blue Jays traded away one of their longest-serving players, Aaron Sanchez.  I can say the year that Sanchez was drafted was the first time I really started paying attention to the draft and then following prospects from the draft.

I was sitting with my Dad and he was talking about three high-end high school pitchers the Jays had drafted and they looked to be really good prospects. He named them off and I started following them, which brought me to the intrigue of watching prospects from when they were drafted and continued through development.  Those three players were Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez.

The hype followed all three after they were drafted.  Syndergaard was an MLB top 30 prospect in three consecutive seasons between 2013 and 2015, Nicolino was in the top 81 for two seasons in 2013 and 2014, while Sanchez was a top 45 from 2013 to 2015.  You can pretty much sum up everything there is about following prospects in these three pitchers.

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Syndergaard would be packaged with other top prospects for an older knuckleballer and we would watch him turn into a front of the rotation, All-Star type of pitcher.  Nicolino would be part of a large package to bring in some veteran All-Stars, but would fizzle out and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2017, and is currently struggling with the White Sox organization in AAA.  Sanchez would become a front of the rotation Cy Young nominee, All-Star, and ERA winning pitcher; but injuries would derail him the last few years.

To understand how the Jays got to Wednesday afternoon when they traded Sanchez you have to go back to before he was drafted.  In 2009, the Jays were coming off a 75-87 season and had a very good shortstop in Marco Scutaro, but he was a free agent.  Scutaro just had a career season in which he hit 12 home runs, adding 60 RBI and batted .282 and was looking to cash in.  Scutaro signed a three year, 17 million dollar deal.

As the Jays were unable to re-sign him, they received an MLB compensation pick, as well as the team signing him had to give up a pick so the Jays got picks #34 and #80, which they used to pick Sanchez and Nicolino. Sanchez was drafted out of Barstow High School after posting a 7-0 record, with a 0.73 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 57.2 innings.

Sanchez got to work and pitched in both Rookie ball and Low A in 2010 combining to post a 2.16 ERA over 25 innings.  His strikeout rate was very good, but his walks were extremely high; but I remember thinking he’s an 18-year old, he has lots of time to figure that out.  As 2011 came and went, his ERA and walks were a little high, but so were his strikeouts.  Then in 2012 things started to get really exciting, Sanchez along with Syndergaard and Nicolino all joined Lansing and dominated.  In fact, Syndergaard had the highest ERA at 2.60 and this is when all three jumped onto the top 100 prospects list.

As said before, both Syndergaard and Nicolino would be traded that offseason and all the hype went to Sanchez (and another recently drafted pitcher Marcus Stroman).   In 2013, Sanchez had another good season, pitching in High-A ball, posting 75 strikeouts in 86 innings. However, his walks were still high and for the first time, he went and played Fall Ball in the Arizona League.

Despite Sanchez struggling with his high walk rate, the team kept pushing him forward and in 2014 he jumped from AA to AAA and would make his major league debut on July 23, 2014 coming out of the bullpen.  Sanchez pitched two innings and I remember thinking man this guy looks calm, two strikeouts, no hits, no walks, three soft fly ball outs.

The first time I saw him pitch in person was August 30th against the Yankees and I was even more impressed in person.  His delivery seemed fluid and calm, it didn’t even look like he was throwing hard but I looked up at the JumboTron and saw 98mph.  Sanchez would finish the season out in the bullpen and posted a measly 1.09 ERA.  The next season Sanchez was a mainstay on the Jays and would split the season between the bullpen and starting rotation.

The big moments to remember in 2015, was that he pitched in nine games that postseason out of the bullpen and did not allow a single run.  2016 was his breakout season when he posted a 15-2 record with a league-leading3.00 ERA and would finish 7th in Cy Young voting.  2017-2019 would be long seasons for Sanchez as he dealt with constant finger problems which eventually led to surgery.  It seemed that the bullpen was the proper spot the last couple of years for Sanchez, but the team wouldn’t do it, and now he’s in Houston.

dark. Next. Well that went better than expected for Sanchez

Sanchez is still just 27 years of age and if he can put his finger injuries behind him we could see Chris Carpenter all over again in Sanchez. He certainly got off to a good start with the Astros last night, joining with three other pitchers to throw a combined no-hitter.