We’re entering that time of the baseball calendar when prospect rankings begin to show up on websites and in publications dedicated to the game.
When it comes to the Phillies, you will hear about well known names such as shortstop J.P. Crawford, a mainstay on the team’s list since he was drafted in June 2013, and Dylan Cozens, the lefty-hitting power plant who led all of minor-league baseball with 40 home runs in 2016.
Sixto Sanchez is a new name that will appear significantly on every Phillies prospect list this offseason.
Sanchez is an 18-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic, and if you polled a dozen player-development folks and executives in the Phillies organization, they might just tell you he’s the organization’s top pitching prospect.
General manager Matt Klentak made a trip to Florida to watch the Phillies Gulf Coast League team play in July. He returned with an excited look on his face as he spoke about the talent on that young, prospect-laden club. He summed up his impressions of Sanchez with wide eyes and two words: “Sixto. Wow.”
Sanchez made 11 regular-season starts in the GCL this summer and was 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA. He pitched 54 innings and gave up just three earned runs. He allowed 33 hits, struck out 44 and walked just eight.
It’s likely that Sanchez will pitch at Lakewood in the Low A South Atlantic League next season. He has the ingredients — a smooth, textbook delivery, uncommonly good command of a power fastball and an improving repertoire of secondary pitches — to be a steady mover in the Phillies’ system. Standing 6-feet tall and weighing 185 pounds, Sanchez is strong-bodied with a build that has been compared to a young Johnny Cueto. He projects as someone who could pitch near or at the top of the big-league rotation, with the usual caveats of good health and everything going right in the development process.
We began hearing about Sanchez in June when a member of the Phillies’ player-development staff popped into Citizens Bank Park for a quick visit. A reporter asked the guy for the name of an under-the-radar prospect to keep an eye on.
Sanchez’s name came off the guy’s tongue with an exit velocity of 108 mph.
Sanchez is no longer an under-the-radar prospect. Two rival scouts who saw him pitch this summer were recently asked about him. Both offered an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Both liked his ability to throw hard stuff — we’re talking 95 mph and up — for strikes while making it look easy with a smooth, low-effort delivery. With the usual caveats, both said he had the potential to climb to the top of a big-league rotation.
After his strong regular season, Sanchez beat the Braves in the GCL semifinals in early September. He pitched seven shutout innings, did not allow a run or a walk and struck out four. Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies’ director of international scouting, was at the game.
“Tremendous performance,” Agostinelli said. “Not one fastball was under 95. And it's an easy, almost effortless 95. His slider was 88 to 90. No walks. He’s special.”
Rafael Chaves, the Phillies’ minor-league pitching coordinator, concurs.
“He’s got a tremendous arm,” Chaves said. “His fastball is 96 to 99 (mph) — 70 to 80 on a scouting scale — and he can change speeds.”
There are plenty of great arms in the low minors. What sets apart Sanchez and gets folks excited is his ability to command the baseball and his feel for pitching.
“It’s amazing,” Chaves said. “He has amazing poise. The poise he showed and how he dominated the league this summer was impressive.”
Sanchez's feel for pitching is even more impressive when you consider his backstory.
He was a shortstop until two years ago, when he started transitioning to the pitcher’s mound in the fall of 2014. That’s when he caught the Phillies’ eye.
Late in 2014, a Cuban catcher named Lednier Ricardo was auditioning for teams in the Dominican Republic. Ruben Amaro Jr., then the Phillies’ general manager, and Mike Ondo, the team’s director of pro scouting, dispatched special assistant Bart Braun to take a look at Ricardo. The workout was at the Phillies’ academy in Boca Chica. Luis Garcia, one of the Phillies’ scouts in the Dominican Republic, was responsible for providing a couple of pitchers so Ricardo could take batting practice. Sanchez was one of the pitchers that Garcia brought to the workout.
As the workout got going, Braun’s eyes lit up.
He didn’t care for the catcher.
He liked the 16-year-old pitcher that Garcia had brought along. Braun liked the kid’s quick, loose arm so much that he approached the kid and asked what it would take to get his signature on a contract. The kid said he wanted $35,000. Braun made his pitch to Agostinelli and Carlos Salas, another Phillies scout in the Dominican. Done deal.
That’s how Sixto Sanchez's journey to the Phillies top prospects list began.
“I remember calling Ruben and Mike and telling them, ‘We’re not going to sign the catcher, but we might have found a pitcher,’" Braun recalled. “It was kind of an accident, a luck deal. We were in the right place at the right time. Sometimes when you keep working you bump into stuff.”
And Braun believes the stuff he bumped into that day in the Dominican Republic two years ago has a chance to be special.
"Sixto has some of the easiest velocity I’ve ever seen,” said Braun, who began his scouting career in 1983. “He’s so athletic and under control in his delivery that he doesn’t have to come out of his body and flop around with his arms and legs to get velocity. That allows him to command the ball so well.
“If he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to be really good.”