Sanchez soaking it in this spring
* Aaron Sanchez is the top prospect in the Blue Jays’ organization, but the 21-year-old right-hander says his focus right now is on learning from veteran big-leaguers at spring training in Dunedin. (Photo: Alexis Brudnicki) ….
By Alexis Brudnicki
He is the most highly-touted prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.
Aaron Sanchez was the team’s first-round selection in 2010 as a high school right-hander. The 21-year-old has been steadily moving through the ranks since then, battling some injuries but making an impression every step of the way.
After posting a 1.16 ERA through six starts (23 1/3 innings) against some impressive competition in the prestigious Arizona Fall League in October and November, Sanchez was invited by the Blue Jays to Toronto for a rookie development camp. From there, he’s moved on to big league spring training, and he’s still just taking it all in.
“So far, so good,” Sanchez said. “It’s kind of everything I expected [at major league camp]. I’m not doing a lot of talking. I’m doing more sitting back, which is a little different for me. But I wanted to come in here and just take in everything and learn from the older guys who have done it a long time.”
Big league camp with the Blue Jays is a pretty good spot for a young pitcher looking to learn from some veteran players. Though he hasn’t gotten into any specifics yet, the education is there for the taking.
“[I’m learning] about how they go about their daily routines,” Sanchez said. “I haven’t really gotten the chance to pick anybody’s brain like I’ve wanted to, but just to see how they go about their business and what they do mentally and physically to prepare to take the ball every fifth day …
“That’s one of the things I felt like I have a pretty good idea … but the more I can learn from the guys who have done it, [Mark] Buehrle for 13 years, [Brandon] Morrow for seven years, Ricky [Romero] for five years … those are the guys that I look up to. I can take some things and maybe it may work, maybe it may not, but as much as I can, I will sit back and listen. I respect everything they have to say.”
Blue Jays outfield prospect Kenny Wilson has been with Sanchez for several of his most recent experiences, playing together in the fall and participating in the rookie camp at Rogers Centre along with several other top Toronto farmhands.
It’s safe to say Sanchez has left an impression on the 24-year-old centre fielder, not only on the field but also in the way he handled the exercises they participated in during the January camp.
“If I were to say I was impressed with anybody, whether it be on or off the field, I would say Sanchez,” Wilson said. “For being so young and being able to handle so much … with answering questions, with cameras in his face, with having microphones shoved in his face all the time, the amount of recognition he gets … to be able to handle it at such a young age and handle himself the right way and go about it the right way, is good.
“It’s good for him and it’s important that they instilled that in him quickly. I don’t know if he knows it or not, but at some point he’s probably going to be the face of some team. It may not be the Blue Jays, but he’s going to be the face of a team and he’s going to have to know how to handle certain situations. He did that, with questions and in our meetings and stuff. He did a very good job of that. It was impressive.”
The young righty was excited to hear such high praise from his teammate.
“That’s a huge compliment,” Sanchez said. “Last year was a tough year for me, battling injury again. It was something that as an organization, we wanted to be 100 per cent sure I was okay, because dealing with a shoulder injury, that’s something that I use every day. I took it as a blessing for me.
“It gave me the opportunity to go out to the fall league and pitch out there, which was something that I wanted to do throughout my career at some point. Being able to go out there this year was a lot of fun, just being out there with a lot of talent and guys who had some time in the big leagues, and I hadn’t even pitched at Double-A.
“I was a little doubtful I guess you would say, just going out there and not pitching at that kind of level. But at the end of the day, it was still baseball and the game I love to do.”
Despite a slight case of nerves heading into the games with the AFL’s Salt River Rafters, as soon as Sanchez took the mound he was settled in.
“Obviously, I hadn’t pitched at that high of a level yet and everybody was saying that this is the biggest jump from this level to this level,” the California native said. “Obviously, that was in the back of my mind. But when I got out there, it was no different.
“It was no different than facing a guy in rookie ball or facing a guy in High-A this past year [with the Dunedin Blue Jays], or whoever it may be. It’s still baseball and it’s still 60 feet, six inches. So that’s kind of how I took my approach, and it ended up working out well for me.”
Though Sanchez has found some success, he’s already been through some periods of failure as well. He believes it’s those times that have helped get him as far as he is now.
“I had a rough couple years,” Toronto’s top-ranked prospect said. “The year it would have been my first spring training going into that year, I went to Bluefield and man I struggled. I struggled really bad with a lot of mechanical issues that we were doing and trying to change some things.
“I didn’t have that good of a changeup, so I was trying to get that third pitch. It was just a lot of stuff going on and that kind of derailed me a little bit. When I got up to Vancouver and I met with [Canadians pitching coach Jim Czajkowski], he sat me down and we went over some things. After that, I kind of took off and that off-season I knew I had to develop a changeup. Going into [Low-A] Lansing is kind of when things started coming together.
“Then this year I felt like I took a step back. Going out to the Fall League, I think I took another couple steps forward. Everything has helped. It’s been tough, but this game is mental, too, and I think that’s what makes or breaks a lot of people in this game … I think those failures have made me a stronger player and a stronger person up to this point, without a doubt.”
Sanchez looks to keep making strides this season, ideally without obstacle.
“My big thing this year is that I need to stay healthy,” he said. “Not that I was injured in the last couple years, but I obviously did hit the [disabled list], so that’s a big thing for me. I wouldn’t say that in spring training I’m working on anything. Obviously, I want to keep going and fastball command is huge for me … command period is huge for me, and the more I can work on my stuff.
“I just need to get out there and pitch.”
- Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis