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.”

Phillies coach Dusty Wathan to interview for Rangers manager

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USA Today Images

Phillies coach Dusty Wathan to interview for Rangers manager

The Texas Rangers will interview Phillies third base coach Dusty Wathan for their manager opening later this week, according to a baseball source.

Wathan, 45, was a finalist for the Phillies' job that went to Gabe Kapler a year ago.

Wathan is a former catcher who played professionally for 14 seasons and appeared in the majors with Kansas City in 2002. He managed 10 seasons in the Phillies' minor-league system and was Eastern League manager of the year at Double A Reading in 2015 and 2016 before moving up to Triple A Lehigh Valley in 2017 and joining the big-league staff under Kapler in 2018. He managed many of the players that have recently arrived in the majors with the Phillies.

The Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister in late September. According to reports, they have already interviewed several candidates including former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Cubs bench Brandon Hyde, Astros bench coach Joe Espada and Rangers assistant GM Jayce Tingler. The Rangers are also expected to interview Don Wakamatsu, who finished 2018 as interim skipper, and Sandy Alomar Jr., a member of the Indians' coaching staff. 

We profiled Wathan here last year.

More on the Phillies

10 Years Ago Today: Charlie Manuel felt professional euphoria, personal grief

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10 Years Ago Today: Charlie Manuel felt professional euphoria, personal grief

Ten years ago this month, the Phillies won their second World Series title in franchise history. Over the next few weeks, Jim Salisbury will look back at team’s run through the NLCS and World Series.

As the final out settled into Carlos Ruiz's mitt and the Phillies clinched the NLCS with a 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 5, I looked down at the dugout from the press box. Players streamed out to congratulate each other on the field. Manager Charlie Manuel stayed behind and accepted handshakes and hugs from his staff.

October 2008 was the high point of Manuel’s career, but it came amidst personal grief. Five days before the Phillies won the NLCS in Dodger Stadium, Manuel’s mother, June, died at the age of 87 back in the family’s hometown of Buena Vista, Virginia.

Manuel spoke to his mother daily before her passing and she wanted him to stay with his team. He celebrated the Phillies’ punching their ticket to the World Series and the next day flew to Virginia for his mother’s funeral.

Phillies players adored Manuel because he never complicated things, never got in the way and always had their back. There was a sense of “Let’s win this for Chuck,” throughout that postseason and it shined brightly in Game 5 at Dodger Stadium.

Mr. Bright Lights himself, James Calvin Rollins, fought back from an 0-2 count and led off the contest with a full-count home run against Chad Billingsley. Later in the game, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell had big hits.

Cole Hamels continued his coming out party with seven innings of one-run ball, giving him a total of 22 innings of three-run ball to that point of the postseason. He was named NLCS series MVP.

Hamels labored through a 26-pitch seventh inning in Game 5 and his warning light was flashing when Manuel went to the mound to speak with his pitcher with two outs, two men on base and dangerous Jeff Kent coming up in a four-run game. One swing could have made it a much different ballgame. Manuel looked into Hamels' eyes and the 24-year-old lefty convinced the skipper he was OK. With the count 2-2, Hamels reached back for everything he had on his 104th pitch of the night. Kent took a called third strike in what turned out to be the final at-bat of his great career.

The spectacular bullpen duo of Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge finished it off and at age 64, Charlie Manuel was headed to the World Series as manager of Philadelphia Phillies.

After the game, Manuel said he knew his mom was watching from above and he recalled his last conversation with her.

“Charles Jr.,” she told him, “you’re going to win these games and go to the World Series.”

Moms are always right.

Previously in this series