CHARLESTON, S.C.—After 11 days of rest, low Class A Lakewood’s Sixto Sanchez was not as sharp as usual on Monday against Charleston. He left pitches up in the zone. His offspeeds were inconsistent. At times, his sequencing was very predictable. Despite all that, the RiverDogs didn’t make a dent against the prodigiously talented righthander who ranks not only as the Phillies’ top pitching prospect, but as one of the brightest young talents in the game.
It didn’t take Sanchez long to show why he is so highly regarded and why there’s still plenty of room for improvement. In his opening sequence against RiverDogs’ leadoff man Hoy-Jun Park, Sanchez started with two consecutive fastballs at 99 mph, then another at 100. He followed with a curveball at 86 mph, then threw a 102 mph heater that Park slammed into center field for a single.
Even with the upper-end velocity, Park swung and missed just once in the sequence—on the first pitch—and was so anticipating the fastball that he was able to make loud contact on what was likely the hardest pitch he’s seen all year. Sanchez threw 15 pitches in the first inning—including eight fastballs at 99 mph or harder—yet got just one swing and miss.
He regathered himself in the second inning, which he opened with a three-pitch strikeout of Estevan Florial, Charleston’s cleanup man and the team’s most coveted prospect. The sequence to Florial? A low-and-away fastball at 97 mph that Florial swung through, followed by a 98 mph fastball that cut over the inside corner, followed by a 100 mph fastball back on the outside corner that Florial waved through for strike three.
Sanchez retained the same velocity, but commanded the ball much better and made it difficult for Florial to sit on one area of the plate. When he’s doing that consistently, Sanchez is all but untouchable.
“I see a young kid who has a high baseball IQ and a delivery that is beyond his age,” Lakewood pitching coach Brian Sweeney said. “He’s a special talent, but he’s 18 years old. We have to be patient. We have to let this guy grow as a pitcher and as a human being and as an adult. And if we can do that, we might have something special on our hands.”
In Sweeney’s eyes, how Sanchez arrives at his arsenal is what sets him apart from other teenaged prodigies. It’s not that he throws his fastball between 97-102 mph, it’s that he does it with relatively little effort.
“That’s because of his delivery. He really uses his legs efficiently,” Sweeney said. “He does a fantastic job of doing what we teach in the Phillies’ system. And because of that it makes his delivery effortless. When you think of a Mariano Rivera back in his heyday, absolutely effortless. That’s what you’d love to have out of all of your pitchers.”
Besides the fastball, Sanchez also mixed in a slider in the mid-80s that, at its best, showed late, deep bite at the feet of lefthanders. His changeup, which was was at 93-94 in the first inning but was much more effective in the mid-80s, showed excellent fade at times, too. Neither pitch was particularly consistent, but that could easily be chalked up to both his age and the long layoff between starts, which was designed to control his innings.
“I felt good. Not like I normally feel when I’m pitching every five days, but I felt good,” Sanchez said, with the help of hitting coach Nelson Prada as an interpreter. “I felt a little bit tired (Monday) because I pitched out of my normal routine. It was 11 days and I missed one start, so I wasn’t feeling the same as usual.”
Sanchez has made significant progress over the past year, since his breakout last season in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. He’s refined his repertoire to make himself less one-dimensional, and in doing so has caught the eye of scouts across the country. He’s drawn comparisons to greats like Jose Fernandez and Pedro Martinez, but achieving that kind of success will require the polish he’ll get as he moves up the minor leagues.
Even when he’s not at his best, it’s clear Sanchez has the ingredients to be special. Now all he needs is time.