Sanchez earns spot in Blue Jays' rotation

March 28th, 2016

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The Blue Jays answered their most pressing question of the spring by officially announcing Monday morning, prior to their 2-1 win over the Phillies, that right-hander Aaron Sanchez will be in their starting rotation.

The debate about whether Sanchez should be used as a starter or reliever has been the dominating topic of conversation during camp. There were arguments for both sides from people within the organization, but in the end, it was the case to start that ultimately won out.

Sanchez would have given the Blue Jays one of the strongest bullpens in baseball, but he also has the potential to become a front-line starter. In a lot of ways, he is the key to what Toronto needs to accomplish this year, and there's a chance he could become the breakout player every team needs to find.

"I think I had anxiety the last four days -- just the suspense, man," Sanchez admitted. "Not knowing what I was doing, felt like I did everything I could do, and just letting the chips fall where they may. I'm thrilled about the news, but now it's time to work."

Sanchez will begin the year in the rotation, but he might not necessarily remain there all year. Gibbons strongly hinted that Sanchez will be under a strict innings limit this season, but he declined to get into the specifics of what that number might be.

The 23-year-old has never thrown more than 133 1/3 innings in a season, and that came back in 2014. Last year, he began the year as a starter, but he eventually got hurt and later transitioned to the bullpen. Sanchez tossed 92 1/3 big league innings while posting a 3.22 ERA in 41 appearances in 2015.

The innings cap will provide a lot of fodder later in the year, but the more pressing news is that Sanchez has the role he had been vocal about wanting all offseason. He worked side by side with friend and teammate Marcus Stroman this offseason in an attempt to add muscle and build enough endurance to be a starter. Sanchez's wish has been granted, and now he has the opportunity he so desperately wanted.

"We'll keep an eye on that," Gibbons said of Sanchez's innings. "There's a good chance he won't be in the rotation all year. We won't lay out what the actual plan is, but we have to be smart.

"If you increase it too much, it's probably harmful. And if, in the end, we need him down in the bullpen, we're that much stronger down there, too. It's not one of those things where he's not going to pitch this year, we'll stop him, like what happened in another place a few years ago. He'll be here pitching."

Results in Spring Training can be deceiving, but it's still impossible to ignore how dominant Sanchez has been during camp. He has allowed just three runs and 15 hits over 20 innings. Perhaps even more impressive, Sanchez has limited the opposition to three walks compared to 19 strikeouts.

The biggest knock on Sanchez when he began last year in the rotation was his lack of command. He walked seven batters during a start against the Orioles on April 22, but in ensuing outings, that number dropped for five consecutive starts, from six all the way down to two.

The improved command has carried over into the spring while Sanchez has tried to further develop his curveball and changeup. Those pitches might not be needed out of the bullpen, but they will be essential to his starting career.

"I think every pitch, not having to release it, and hope that it's going to go where I want it," Sanchez said. "I feel like I've done a pretty good job of putting the baseball where I want.

"In terms of secondary pitches, I think I've made tremendous strides with everything. I think the cutter is still lacking, but that's something that is a work in progress and will continue to be a work in progress. I feel like my three-pitch mix is right where I need to be, and I'm ready to attack in 2016."

Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)

With a 1.35 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and a 19-to-3 K:BB ratio across 20 innings this spring, Sanchez certainly earned his rotation spot. The right-hander may not attract immediate mixed-league attention due to his low K/9 rate (6.3) in the Majors, but he could improve in that department, given his 8.8 K/9 mark as a Minor Leaguer. Those in 12-team leagues should look to stash the 23-year-old on the bench, and owners in 10-team leagues should keep a close eye on his early-season outings. Sanchez could see his overall fantasy value affected by an innings cap in the second half, but owners scooping arms off waivers now should not be looking that far down the road.