'I trust myself': Sánchez thriving in midst of roster battle 

March 18th, 2023

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Can you name the Marlin who leads the club in stolen bases this spring?

If you guessed outfielder , you probably looked it up.

“He got the third one before I did this spring, and he let me know,” 2022 MLB stolen base champion Jon Berti said. “It's been good. He's been asking a lot of questions, and just doing my best to help him out. The more we can help each other out, the better off we're going to be as a team.”

Though Sánchez didn’t add to his stolen base total in Saturday afternoon’s 7-0 Marlins win over the Nationals at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, he continued his solid spring by going 2-for-4 with two runs scored.

It’s a crucial Spring Training for the 25-year-old Sánchez, who has no Minor League options remaining. He must make the Opening Day roster or else be subjected to waivers. With five above-average tools, another club would happily take a chance on Sánchez.

The way Miami’s projected roster stands, there’s a close competition between Sánchez and for the starting left-field spot. Both can play right field as well, and manager Skip Schumaker had said he is comfortable with either manning center when Jazz Chisholm Jr. needs a day off. Jorge Soler should get the majority of the designated hitter reps, but he can also see time in the outfield so other regulars can remain in the lineup at DH.

“I'm not having any type of pressure,” Sánchez said via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr. “I trust myself. I think I'm a good player, so I trust myself in that way. I love baseball, so I just go out there, I play the game, play hard, and just keep trusting in myself.”

When Sánchez opened 2022 as the Marlins’ starting center fielder, he recorded an .839 OPS in April. But opposing pitchers quickly adjusted, and he didn’t. His .601 OPS from May through August warranted a demotion to Triple-A Jacksonville, where he stayed until playing sparingly as a September callup.

Through 13 games this spring, Sánchez is a team-leading 11-for-34 (.324) with 10 strikeouts and two walks. His four doubles and .361 On-Base Percentage are both team-highs for the Marlins this spring. Eight of the 11 hits have gone to the opposite field or center for the left-handed-hitting Sánchez, who has a propensity for pulling the ball. Both hits on Saturday went to right.

“I've always thought that you have to be a complete hitter before you learn how to hit home runs,” manager Skip Schumaker said. “You hit home runs later in your career. If you just try to hit home runs, you're going to be exposed in a hurry here. And maybe that's what some of the guys found out early on in their careers. These guys are good hitters, so be a good hitter first, and then the damage will come later on.

“Sánchez is a big and strong guy. He will run into home runs. The scary part for pitchers is when you can manipulate the barrel and hit up, down, out, in -- and not just one spot. And he's showing that he can do that right now. Again, it's Spring Training, but it's really fun to watch him grow into a more of a complete hitter.”

With a new hitting staff, Schumaker knew trust needed to be built before batters would buy in, and guys like Sánchez have. While his strikeout total is high, his plate discipline has been better -- as have his at-bats. Sánchez has been working on aggressiveness and timing at the plate.

Sánchez is insistent he’s the same player who struggled for much of 2022; he’s just soaking in everything the staff and veterans have to say. Those bumps taught him to stay calm and trust in the way he plays the game, rather than trying to please others.

If this version of Sánchez can consistently show up -- one capable of blasting a 496-foot homer or wreaking havoc on the basepaths -- the Marlins will be all the better for it.

“It's not about showing,” Sánchez said. “I think they can see on video stuff I've done and what I can do, but it's mostly about the attitude. I'm here to do as much as I can to help the team and play in any position to just help this team.”