Phillies

A Phillies prospect you'll soon be hearing a lot about

A Phillies prospect you'll soon be hearing a lot about

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.”

The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

The 12 best free-agent hitters after Manny Machado and Bryce Harper

You know who the top two free-agent position players will be this offseason: Bryce Harper, Manny Machado.

What about the rest of the class? Let's take a look at the dozen next-best bats out there after those two. 

Catchers — Wilson Ramos, Yasmani Grandal

It's these two and little else behind the plate. Grandal seems likely to re-sign with the Dodgers, who have a ton of money and value his framing and work with the pitching staff. Grandal also has a .799 OPS the last three seasons with an average of 24 homers. He's one of the better all-around catchers in baseball, despite his ugly showing in the NLCS.

For the Phillies, Ramos is worth re-signing, and the Phils should have a key advantage on other teams because they know more about his health situation. If the Phils deem Ramos able to play 100-plus games in 2019, they should bring him back. He's one of the best hitters at any position in this free-agent class.

Infielders — Josh Donaldson, Daniel Murphy, Jed Lowrie, D.J. LeMahieu, Eduardo Escobar, Brian Dozier, Marwin Gonzalez

Donaldson offers the most "boom" among this group. He's three years removed from winning AL MVP as an impact power hitter and impact defender at 3B. From 2015-17, he hit .285/.387/.559 with an average of 37 homers and 100 RBI.

But a calf injury cost Donaldson most of 2018 and prevented the Blue Jays from getting much value for him in a trade with the Indians. Donaldson will be one of the most interesting free agents this winter. Will a team pay him for past performance? Will he sign a one-year, prove-it deal? The latter seems more likely.

Murphy should get something like two years, $18-20 million. Just tough to commit long-term to a 34-year-old who can't play defense and is one year removed from a devastating injury.

Gonzalez is worth keeping an eye on for Phillies fans. He can play every position on the diamond other than pitcher and catcher, and he can do more than just stand at that position. He's a decent fielder all over the place. A better hitter than Asdrubal Cabrera. A better utilityman than Pedro Florimon.

Outfielders — Michael Brantley, A.J. Pollock, Nick Markakis

Pollock and Brantley have been oft-injured in recent seasons and that will certainly impact their markets. Pollock has missed 249 games the last three seasons. Brantley has missed 242.

Non-Bryce Harper outfield help isn't among the Phillies' top needs, but there's no question Brantley or Markakis would make this a better, more well-rounded lineup because of their ability to hit for average and produce a ton of doubles. 

We'll delve deeper into the Phillies fit for many of these players in the days and weeks to come. But there's some talent out there even if the Phils strike out with that top tier.

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Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

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Has Manny Machado played (and talked) himself out of Philly before ever getting to Philly?

A hearty congratulations to Manny Machado for getting through Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday without doing anything stupid, anything to hurt his free-agent platform.

Or should we say anything else?

Machado, the gifted shortstop/third baseman who has long been the fancy of the Phillies’ front office, didn’t exactly author a brilliant campaign speech when he acknowledged his raging allergy to hustling in an interview with baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal earlier this week.

“Obviously, I’m not going to change,” Machado told Rosenthal. “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be Johnny Hustle. It’s not my cup of tea, not who I am.”

Can you imagine the reaction that Machado’s agent, Dan Lozano, had to these comments? (No, Danny, no. That’s a heavy chair, do not throw it through the window!)

In less than a month, Lozano will start shopping the 26-year-old infielder to prospective buyers. Estimates on Machado’s price tag have hovered around the $300 million mark, give or take a Brinks truck or three. Now, the first question that Lozano is going to hear from the potential suitors won’t be about what it will take to sign his client or whether Machado wants to play shortstop or third base, it will be about the player’s aversion to hustle. Or, as it is known in other circles, playing hard.

In some cities, admitting you don’t, won’t or can’t hustle could make you toxic.

New York is one and the Yankees just so happen to need a shortstop next season as Didi Gregorious recovers from elbow surgery. People close to Machado have told me he likes the idea of being a Yankee because, one, they are the Yankees, and two, he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that trains in his native Florida.

The Phillies also play on the East Coast and train in Florida. They also have a lot of money and a longstanding interest in Machado. They tried to acquire him from Baltimore in July and were willing to include big talent in the deal if Machado would have agreed to a contract extension. The Dodgers ended up getting Machado and the Phillies, quietly confident that they could land the player as a free agent this winter, moved on.

But now you have to wonder if Machado could work in Philadelphia. It’s almost become cliché to say the city — i.e., the fans who pay the bills — likes a certain kind of athlete, one that goes all-out all the time, but when you think about some of the city’s all-time favorites — Chuck Bednarik, Bobby Clarke, Brian Dawkins, Chase Utley — you realize it’s not cliché, it’s fact.

Even before Machado made news for the wrong reasons this week, there had been whispers that some in the Phillies organization would prefer to steer clear of Machado for just the reasons that the player articulated in his ill-advised and ill-timed comments. To the best of our knowledge, general manager Matt Klentak remains open-minded, and that’s good because Machado is a great talent and the Phillies need some of that if they are going to put a winner on the field.

But this whole issue has complicated things for Klentak and an ownership group that is poised to write some big checks this winter. Whether or not to pursue Manny Machado is going to require a lot of thought and a lot of weighing the rewards of his talent versus the risk of his makeup.

And who are those guys over there in the corner grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats? Looks a little like Bryce Harper and Scott Boras.

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