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In January of 2005, it would have been hard to imagine that Gaby Sanchez could be where he is right now.
At the time, Sanchez had just been suspended at Miami for violating university policy, and his junior year was a lost cause. Now, he is terrorizing the South Atlantic League.
The catcher/first baseman hit walk-off home runs on Friday and Saturday and is hitting .600/.684/1.267 with three homers and 10 RBIs in 15 at-bats. This is on the heels of leading the New York-Penn League in hitting with a .355 average in his pro debut last summer at short-season Jamestown.
While the suspension could have set his career back significantly, the seeds for his success were planted on the practice field in Coral Gables last spring.
“During the suspension Gaby was always very optimistic and worked very, very hard every single day,” Miami coach Jim Morris said. “We allowed him to take batting practice and he caught bullpens.”
Though previously a third baseman, Miami had him catching pens with the thought that he could be back to start his senior season. It seemed likely at time, because it would be hard to imagine the suspension not killing his draft stock.
His new position actually increased his marketability; Sanchez signed for $250,000 after the Marlins took him in the fourth-round as a catcher.
Despite his impressive debut with he Jammers, the Marlins asked Sanchez to try and pull the ball more to increase his power.
“Last year, I was more of a drive-the-ball-opposite-way kind of guy. And in the offseason, they got me to pull more pitches, try to get me to hit the ball out in front more,” Sanchez said. “I was working on that all offseason, and now I’ve (brought) that into my game, and so far, so good.”
In the 2006 opener, Sanchez went 2-for-5 with a home run as Greensboro defeated Hagerstown 11-7. He followed that up on Friday by going 2-for-5 with a walk-off grand slam. Saturday was his best day yet as he went 5-for-5 with a double and another walk-off. Hagerstown learned its lesson on Sunday as the 22-year-old walked four times in four plate appearances; Greensboro completed a four-game sweep with a 3-0 win.
While appreciating Sanchez’™ newfound power, Greensboro manager Brandon Hyde raves about his overall approach.
“He is really short to the ball and it is an aggressive swing, ” Hyde said. “I don’t think he goes up thinking home run. I think he goes up thinking, ‘I am gonna hit a line drive in the gap and take a quality AB.’ When he gets the barrel to the ball, the ball is gonna jump.
“He has got a really strong lower half and a good short swing. I don’t see him trying to do too much up there at the plate.”
In the Grasshoppers’™ first four games, Sanchez has caught only once and played first three times. It is likely that his career at third is over, but the Marlins will continue to play him enough behind the plate to see if he as the ability to stick there.
“If you can hit, they will find you a spot and a place to play,” Morris said. “If he can hit and catch, that makes it even more special.”
• With all the debate about how much the World Baseball Classic would benefit or hurt players early in the regular season, the Orioles certainly aren’t complaining about the effect it has had on lefthander Adam Loewen.
Loewen, who earned national headlines after he shut out Team USA for nearly four innings in the WBC, came out cruising in his debut at Double-A Bowie. Facing Reading on Friday, Loewen (who turned 22 on Sunday) tossed eight shutout innings, allowed only one hit–an eighth-inning double by Phillies first baseman Bryan Hansen–and struck out 12.
“The thing that really set him apart that night was his ability to command his breaking ball,” farm director David Stockstill said. “Everything he did on the field just seemed effortless. He was just very, very impressive.”
Perhaps most impressive, Loewen didn’t walk anyone. So it seems clear that the first-round pick out of Chipola Junior College in 2002, has grown up–largely because of the international competition.
Loewen really started to take off in the Arizona Fall League, prior to pitching for his native Canada in the Olympic qualifier in Phoenix last November and then the WBC. He went 2-1, 1.67 in 27 innings in the AFL, and worked with Orioles pitching coach Larry McCall to stay more upright in his delivery and put more of his weight on his back leg during his windup. Keeping his weight on his back side allowed him to get more consistent with his release point and made it easier to repeat his delivery. It also helped him to use his 6-foot-5 frame to his advantage, firing pitches on a more downhill plane.
“What I’ve been telling everybody is before Friday night, the Adam Loewen I remember is from 2004 in (low Class A) Delmarva,” Bay Sox manager Don Werner said. “I remember back then he had no control of his body and had no control of the strike zone. It was a battle for him to even go five innings.
“So I’m hearing all these good things about him coming into this season, and what I saw in spring training and what I saw on Friday was exactly what everybody was talking about–he had such a flow going. It was one of those nights where you think a guy could pitch forever. His mechanics were clean, his body control was remarkable and as a result, you come to know what all this talk is all about.”
• Triple-A Syracuse righthander Dustin McGowan dominated Sunday in his new role as a reliever, relying on a 94-96 mph fastball and a high-80s slider. He struck out three International League batters in his two scoreless innings of work, with the only blemish a bloop hit. Making the conversion easier was McGowan’s quick acclimation to the bullpen in Toronto last season (0.82 ERA, with 11 strikeouts in 11 innings, .135 average) after mixed results as a starter. It’s also likely his quickest ticket to the big leagues this year.
“I know Dustin’s really excited about being a reliever,” Blue Jays pitching coach Brad Arnsberg told the Syracuse Post Standard. “Our thinking is that he’s going to get his innings in (as a reliever), and we just feel that if he’s going to come up and help this big league club in the future, there’s a real good chance that may be out of the bullpen.”
• As the top pitching prospect in a hitting-heavy Diamondbacks organization, much rests on the shoulders of Dustin Nippert. He lived up to those expectations Sunday as he struck out seven in seven innings in his Triple-A debut. His ERA remains zero, but he surrendered five unearned runs in the second inning after an error by shortstop Stephen Drew. “(Nippert) got a little erratic after a double-play ball we didn’t turn,” Sidewinders interim manager Lorenzo Bundy told the Tucson Citizen. “He left a couple of balls out over the plate and they capitalized. But after that (second) inning, he really stepped it up and made his pitches.”
• Don’t let Nationals lefthander Mike Hinckley’s infinite ERA and 0-1 record fool you. His loss this weekend was about as hard-luck as it can get. Hinckley, the former No. 1 prospect in the Nationals system who returned to the high Class A Carolina League to start this season after struggling there a year ago, gave up a leadoff double to Beau Torbert in Potomac’s Friday night game against Salem. Rain and lightning caused the game to be postponed until Saturday before Hinckley could pitch to another batter, and when play resumed 22 hours later, Torbert scored on a two-out double by Lou Santangelo against Potomac reliever Ricardo Morales. The Avalanche broke the game open with six runs in the fifth inning, but Hinckley was saddled with the loss.
• Another top Nationals pitching prospect avoided a loss on Sunday despite giving up six runs (five earned) in three innings. Potomac scored 17 runs to give righthander Clint Everts a no-decision. Despite his line, it was an encouraging outing for the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Everts, who is most of the way back from his September 2004 Tommy John surgery. Though he pitched in cold weather at Lynchburg, Va., Everts pitched at 88-89 mph with his fastball, after reaching 90-91 in his last spring training start in Florida. “Clint has progressed very well since the start of spring training,” Nationals assistant scouting director Brian Parker said. “His velocity is getting back to where it was prior to his injury. What he needs right now is to just continue making his starts and begin having confidence in his arm, and in particular, his fastball.”
Contributing: Jeff Carlton (Greensboro, N.C., News-Record), Matt Eddy, Aaron Fitt, Chris Kline.