Phillies

'Electricity' of big-armed Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez gaining steam at Lakewood

'Electricity' of big-armed Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez gaining steam at Lakewood

LAKEWOOD, N.J. — The first pitch of Wednesday’s game turned into a groundout. But then with one away in the top of the first, the Sixto Sanchez Show began.

On the big screen in center field at FirstEnergy Park, the pitch speed flashed: 102 mph.

The next one was the same: 102 mph.

There were at least five or six triple-digit pitches thrown in the opening frame by the BlueClaws’ 18-year-old righty, but that’s almost what’s expected from him nowadays. Still a few weeks away from his 19th birthday and just 136 innings into his pro career, Sanchez is turning heads and drawing comparisons that no one could’ve predicted two years ago.

As Lakewood’s pitching coach Brian Sweeney explains, even the casual fan will notice Sanchez’s tempo, his pattern of outs early in the count and certainly his triple-digit speed.

While the speed is obvious, the young ace’s other patterns are, too.

“I wish I knew [where his command comes from.] I’d bottle it and I’d be a millionaire,” BlueClaws manager Marty Malloy said. “Or if I knew that, everyone on our staff would be like that. It’s something he’s worked on. 

“He works every day, he throws his bullpens, he does his side work, he does his touch-and-feel, he does his dry work. But his fastball command is ahead of most people his age.”

Sanchez’s command is, in a word, impressive. In 56 1/3 innings at the Low A level, he has 54 strikeouts to only six walks. Opponents are hitting .199 against him, and Wednesday night, he carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning.

And oh yeah, he needed just 62 pitches — 45 of which were strikes — to go six innings. The game was wrapped up in a crisp 2:05 and Sanchez had his fourth win of the season.

It’s easy to forget that he’s still a ways from the majors, even when his stuff compares with that of just about anyone.

“His delivery is well beyond his years for pitching for such a short time. He really does a good job of using his legs efficiently, which in turn makes him pitch efficiently,” Sweeney said. “It’s something we preach as an organization — attacking the zone, a repeatable delivery that helps you attack the zone, and it starts right from when he was down in the Dominican Republic at our academy.”

The Rome Braves’ hitters tried attacking Sanchez’s fastball early in the count to no avail. It was pop up after pop up with a couple of broken bats in between.

When they tried to be patient with the fireballer, he threw it past them pretty much every time. And if he didn’t, there was a slick changeup and a nasty low-80s spinner waiting in the wings.

Since the Phils plucked Sanchez from San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic just two years ago, this is what he has done time and time again. Only now, though, is he getting the attention worthy of his stuff. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the 18th overall prospect in its annual midseason rankings released last week.

Still, you wouldn’t know it just by looking at the 6-foot, 185-pound righty. And even if he knows the expectations have risen, you can’t tell it when he’s on the mound.

“I don’t think [the expectations change anything] in his development because he’s a happy-go-lucky guy,” Malloy said. “He’s the same guy every day, too. He’s a great kid, got a smile on his face every day, he knows the day he takes the ball, it’s business.

“Obviously, he’s on pitch limits, pitch counts, and that’s just to protect him for the future. But as far as his arm, it’s electricity. He’s [hitting] triple digits, he’s got a major-league changeup right now, he’s doing some stuff with his breaking ball to get better right now, but he’s got all the gas in the tank.”

On the field, it’s all there for Sanchez. Off it, there is still plenty of room to grow.

For one, he still only speaks Spanish, but is learning English with the help of his teammates and the Phillies’ organization. On top of that, he has plenty of body to fill out.

Lakewood is just the third stop in a series of experiences at the minor-league level, and there is no reason to think Sanchez’s growth is going to slow anytime soon.

“There are things he has to develop,” Sweeney said. “This is his first full season. He’s never played more than 70 games in a season, so he’s going to get the most innings he’s ever had this year. He’s going to take the most bus rides, he’s going to be in different states in the United States eating different food.

“These are all important parts of his development because as he goes up, he’ll be flying somewhere. The more you learn each year, the better you develop as a man and as a pitcher.”

Sanchez could have very easily finished out Wednesday’s start. He probably would have been able to throw a complete game with less than 100 pitches.

But one could legitimately argue his right arm is the most important body part in the entire organization. If you asked any one of the handful of scouts in attendance, they would probably tell you the same.

Remember, the kid is 18 years old. You probably won’t see him on the mound at Citizens Bank Park anytime soon.

So until then, the message from his coaches is short and sweet.

“Toe that rubber every sixth day and be consistent,” Sweeney said.

Another big day for Phil Gosselin, who continues to catch Gabe Kapler’s eye

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USA Today Images

Another big day for Phil Gosselin, who continues to catch Gabe Kapler’s eye

BRADENTON, Fla. – Phil Gosselin was told a few days ago that he would not make the Phillies’ opening day roster.

But that doesn’t mean he can’t keep making an impression on club officials before he heads to Triple A.

Gosselin has remained in big-league camp. He was the Phillies’ starting third baseman in Saturday’s game against the Pirates. The Phillies lost, 5-3, but Gosselin impressed with a pair of hits and several excellent plays in the field.

One of his hits was an opposite-field homer to right on a full-count against Pittsburgh right-hander Jordan Lyles. Gosselin is not known for his power – he has just seven homers in 532 at-bats with five big-league clubs – but this ball jumped out of the park.

Gosselin is hitting .410 (16 for 39) on the spring with five doubles, a triple and two home runs. The 30-year-old utility man, a West Chester native who grew up rooting for the Phillies (see story), has caught manager Gabe Kapler’s eye in camp.

“I talked to Josh Bonifay (the team’s director of player development) today about some of our priorities at Triple A,” Kapler said after the game. “When we got to Gosselin, there was some real excitement there.

“It (his spring performance) looks like something different than he’s produced in his career. You don’t see guys like that often hit the ball that he hit to right-center today. It’s a little unusual. This is a big ballpark and the ball doesn’t always go that well. Real power, some decent bat-to-ball skills, really heady defender, a guy that everybody likes. Those are the guys that if you reach down in the middle of the summer, you’re like, 'I’m really glad that this guy is in our organization,' because you trust him. You trust him to come up and perform.”

It takes a lot more than 25 guys to get through a big-league season. Gosselin has put himself in position to help the Phillies at some point in 2019.

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Victor Arano loses spot in Phillies' bullpen, leaving door open for a different arm

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Victor Arano loses spot in Phillies' bullpen, leaving door open for a different arm

Updated: 8:23 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — Victor Arano was an important member of the Phillies’ bullpen last season. He recorded a 2.73 ERA in 60 games. He struck out 60 batters, walked 17 and gave up just six homers in 59 1/3 innings. 

The previous year, he came up from the minors for a look and gave up just two runs in 10 2/3 innings.

That's a 2.57 ERA in his first 70 big-league games.

In most cases, numbers like these would ensure Arano’s roster spot entering the new season.

But the 24-year-old right-hander struggled so badly this spring that Phillies officials decided Saturday night to option Arano to Triple A Lehigh Valley along with right-hander Yacksel Rios.

“We weigh track record heavily and lean on it pretty strongly,” manager Gabe Kapler said Saturday before the decision came down. “However, without an indication that he’s feeling confident, it’s something to examine closely. You can discount one, two, three outings. It’s hard to discount five or six outings of struggle, consecutively.”

Arano pitched two-thirds of an inning in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to the Pirates. He gave up a hit, a walk and a run. In four innings of work this spring, he has given up 20 runs. He has been tagged for 17 hits, including four homers.

“By every account, he was outstanding for us the last two years, one of our higher-leverage relievers, a guy we depended on in the biggest situations,” Kapler said after the game. “You still also have to pay close attention to what is happening right in front of you and we’ve seen several outings in a row that are worth really digging into to find out how we can help him.

“I think it’s cause to really dig on what’s happening for him both mentally and mechanically. I think he’s absolutely fine from a physical perspective. His legs are underneath him. He’s strong. I think his arm speed is fine.

“But you know, today the ball didn’t come out great. It’s worth having a conversation with him and really discussing what he needs to get back on track because at this point it hasn’t been very effective and I think he knows that. If he was standing next to me right now, he would tell you there’s a better performance in there.”

Through a translator, Arano indicated that his struggles are mechanical. He said he is struggling to find the release point on his slider, which was an excellent pitch for him last season.

Arano had pitched on back-to-back days — he gave up a homer to Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees on Friday night. The Phils play their final two games in Florida on Sunday and Monday. The club knew before then that Arano will have to clean up his mechanical problems and build some confidence in the minors before getting back to Philadelphia.

The Phillies open the season on Thursday.

Right now, these seven relievers look set in the bullpen:

Hector Neris (R)

David Robertson (R)

Seranthony Dominguez (R)

Pat Neshek (R)

Juan Nicasio (R)

Adam Morgan (L)

Jose Alvarez (L)

With Arano and Rios failing to make the club, a spot looks open for Edubray Ramos as the eighth reliever.

The Phils could also use Vince Velasquez out of the bullpen for the first week of the season. 

Tommy Hunter will open on the injured list.

We’ll know in a few days how the bullpen fully shakes out. Unfortunately for Arano, he had made some final decisions easy for club officials.

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