Sanchez Shows Unusual Polish For Mariners

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When a team brings in a 17-year-old Latin American pitcher for his first taste of pro ball, he may as well come over in bubble wrap. Teams are understandably cautious with the youngest of their pitchers, especially if they just made a significant investment in the player.

The Pirates paid $2.6 million for 6-foot-6, 205-pound Mexican righthander Luis Heredia in 2010, then held him to 30 1/3 innings last year with only a few innings per start. Blue Jays righthander Adonys Cardona, a $2.8 million signing out of Venezuela the same year, was restrained to a similarly strict workload.

The Mariners have put 17-year-old righthander Victor Sanchez, their $2.5 million signing out of Venezuela last year, on the other end of the spectrum. The Mariners gave Sanchez an aggressive assignment, skipping him over the Arizona League to short-season Everett. They have also been liberal with his workload. He leads the Northwest League with 54 2/3 innings and he's been effective, holding down a 3.79 ERA with 19 walks and 45 strikeouts, only one whiff shy of the league lead.

"He's a really thick kid," Everett pitching coach Rich Dorman said of Sanchez, who is now listed at 6 feet, 255 pounds. "He's strong, so durability is not going to be an issue. He's very durable. He hasn't shown any signs of letting up. We're cautious as well. We're going to give him an extra day, so instead of five we'll give him six days. We'll make sure he continues to get the proper rest, probably two starts with five days, then give him an extra day on another start just to keep him fresh."

Sanchez draws more physical comparisons to linebackers than he does fellow pitchers. While there isn't much physical projection left—his 89-94 mph fastball sits at 91, which is about the same as before he signed and entirely what scouts had expected—but he repeats his mechanics, spots his fastball well for his age and shows the poise that reflects his experience competing on the international stage since he was 13.

"He handles adversity pretty well," Dorman said. "There's not a lot of situations in games that take him out of his game. Unlike young pitchers, their emotions are what they struggle to control when they first start pitching. This guy has ice water in his veins. You watch him pitch and you forget he's 17. He's so calm and collected on the mound."

After his fastball, Sanchez also has a solid array of offspeed pitches. He throws a sharp, three-quarters breaking ball around 78-81 mph that gets caught between a curveball and a slider at times, but should eventually become two distinct pitches.

"His slider, it's like a curveball, but he calls it a slider," Dorman said. "It's a good pitch with good arm speed. A lot of young pitchers tend to slow their arm down when they throw breaking balls, but he has good feel for it and good arm speed, which makes it tougher on hitters. The offspeed pitch that impresses me the most is his changeup. For most younger kids and power pitchers, the last pitch to develop is the changeup, but he's got really good feel for it."

While some scouts regarded Sanchez as the top international pitcher on the market last year, even some of those who liked Sanchez pointed out that he didn't miss as many bats as they would have expected given the quality of his stuff. The continued development of Sanchez's changeup, which he throws with good arm speed right off his fastball, could give him a true putaway pitch.

"It's got that 10 mph differential between the fastball and the changeup," Dorman said. "Hitters don't pick it up out of his hand. He's got a real good feel for it and it's very deceptive. It makes his fastball play better; any changeup makes your fastball play better. That's an advanced pitch. It takes time, but he's got a pretty good one."