Sanchez making Major progress for Blue Jays
Toronto's top prospect gaining valuable experience on way through club's Pipeline
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have watched Aaron Sanchez grow as a person and a player since signing the right-hander in 2010, when he was only 17. Back then, he was still a kid -- a lanky 6-foot-3, 170-pounder -- and far from a finished product.
Now the 21-year-old, who is 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, has matured through the ranks of the Blue Jays' farm system. Sanchez is sitting on the doorstep of a Major League debut after being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo last week.
Blue Jays assistant general manager and vice president of baseball operations Tony LaCava said Sanchez's rise through the Minor Leagues has provided the organization's top prospect invaluable experience that will help him become a front-line big league starter sooner than his peers.
"When you think about it, we draft kids at 21 years old. He's got a lot of experience that they don't have, they have to go and get it," LaCava said. "We think he's ahead of the game in that regard, and he's right where he should be. Each year -- since we signed him 17 turning 18 -- he's come back each year and gotten better."
The Blue Jays are crazy about the potential of the Barstow, Calif., native, and what LaCava calls Sanchez's "beautiful, projectable pitcher's frame."
The power-pitching Sanchez, who is ranked as the No. 19 prospect overall by MLB.com, began the season with Double-A New Hampshire, where he was 3-4 with a 3.82 ERA over 14 starts.
"We still think he's got front-line potential, and we are watching him close," LaCava said. "He's a power pitcher, with a fastball in the mid-90s that tops in the high-90s. He has an out pitch curveball and a changeup as well."
While the callup to Buffalo is big news, Sanchez had experienced some obvious control problems with the Fisher Cats this season, walking 40 hitters in 66 innings and matching his 2013 total of 40 walks over 86 1/3 innings with Class A Dunedin. He made his first start with the Bisons on Saturday, allowing four earned runs on six hits and four walks over four innings in a 7-2 loss to Toledo.
But LaCava said that the numbers aren't a concern.
"Walks are up, and that's probably the biggest thing," LaCava said. "He needs to continue to become more efficient with his pitches. And again, we'd like to see the walk rates go down, but as far as his upside is concerned, we think he's got a great future."
Sanchez, who pitched 13 scoreless innings in Spring Training, is following closely behind the team's former No. 1 prospect and close friend Marcus Stroman, who didn't make the team out of spring camp, but he earned a callup and a spot in the Blue Jays' rotation after tearing up the Triple-A ranks.
Sanchez's promotion left a hole in the Fisher Cats' rotation, but that vacancy was quickly filled by Daniel Norris, who was brought up from Class A Dunedin. Norris, the Blue Jays' No. 4 prospect, went 6-0 with a 1.22 ERA over 13 starts in the Florida State League.
Norris, a 21-year-old left-hander, possesses a low-90s fastball with a good downward angle -- mixing in a curveball, changeup and slider.
"This has been a breakout year for him," LaCava said. "We always knew he had the abilities to do something like this, and this year, he's finally putting it all together."
Sticking with pitching prospects, it's been almost one year since Robert Osuna underwent Tommy John surgery. LaCava said the right-hander's recovery is on track.
"All indications are he's doing quite fine, and he's on a throwing program," LaCava said. "We haven't had any setbacks, so we're excited about him."
Osuna signed with the Blue Jays as a 16-year-old when he was pitching in the Mexican League. He became the youngest player in the Midwest League on Opening Day in 2013.
Osuna, a 6-foot-2, 230-pounder, throws a low-90s fastball with good movement, complemented by a slider and a changeup.
On the position-player side, D.J. Davis tops the organization's prospect list with his exceptional speed and athleticism. He was considered one of the best athletes available in the 2012 Draft. The 19-year-old possess the tools to be an all-around hitter, and his speed gives him the potential to be an above-average outfielder. LaCava said Davis is easily one of the most dynamic players in the club's system.
"On any given day, he's one of the best players on the field," LaCava said. "He needs to be more consistent in his game, but as far as tools go, he's got as many as anybody that we have. It's a kid you have to be patient with, and we're going to take it slow with him ... he's holding his own in a tough league for a young player.
Davis is hitting .229 with 31 RBIs and five homers in 60 games with Class A Lansing.
Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.