Sanchez, Contreras collect AFL kudos

November 9th, 2021

PEORIA, Ariz. -- White Sox infield prospect and Pirates right-hander stood out as the Hitter and Pitcher of the Week respectively in the Arizona Fall League for their performances from Nov. 1-6.

Sanchez stacks up hits

The No. 15 White Sox prospect stood atop the hitting podium over the past week due to his 7-for-12 performance, which included a two-run homer, his first on the circuit. In that span, he collected seven RBIs, three runs scored and three walks, all while showcasing his defensive flexibility.

Sanchez's approach at the dish over the past week was very much in line with what led to him hitting .343 during a 39-game stint with Double-A Birmingham to conclude the regular season.

“Just trying to hit the ball to right-center field, stay to the big parts of the field,” Sanchez said via Desert Dogs hitting coach and translator Rafael Pena. “I’m going to the plate with confidence, with a good approach. I’ve gotten used to the level of the pitching in the Fall League.”

That comfort level stems from experience Sanchez gained across 164 games at home in Cuba. In 490 at-bats -- all of which came before he turned 21 -- the Havana native batted .288.

Noting that the competition in his native land was strong, “but the level here is higher,” the 24-year-old has gone through an acclimation period while climbing through the White Sox system. Upon arriving in Birmingham, Sanchez continued to do what he’s done virtually everywhere he’s played: hit.

“I feel like getting more ABs, getting the experience here and getting used to baseball in the United States is going to be a big thing for me heading into next year,” he said.

If there is a question mark surrounding Sanchez, it’s likely regarding where he fits onto a Major League club defensively. His arm and fielding are tied (55, on the 20-80 scale) for his highest-rated attributes, although whether he plays second base, shortstop or even third remains unclear.

How the White Sox roster construction in 2022 shakes out could ultimately answer that question. With Tim Anderson and Yoán Moncada set to hold down short and third respectively, it stands to figure that Sanchez’s quickest path to The Show will be through the keystone.

“Shortstop is the natural place where I’ve played the most in Cuba, but playing second, playing third, I just want to do whatever I can to help my team,” Sanchez said. “I feel comfortable at all three [positions].”

Contreras adds AFL accolade

Facing nine batters and getting nine outs -- five via strikeout -- all but assures a pitcher a chance at receiving weekly AFL kudos. That’s precisely what Contreras, the Pirates’ No. 6 prospect, did in a victory for Peoria last Tuesday.

Behind the dish for that effort was Logan O’Hoppe (PHI No. 11), who has grown acclimated with the Dominican native during the fall campaign.

“Obviously, the stuff is electric,” O’Hoppe said of Contreras. “He’s really fun to work with because he understands what he wants to do, and he understands his stuff and how he wants to go about it. That’s more of a guy where I’m there for him and I’m just putting down the fingers he wants and letting him do his thing because, obviously, he’s done a pretty good job and knows what he’s doing.”

Contreras is in rare air among Fall League attendees, having been one of a select group who have already debuted in the big leagues. While not as dominant as his most recent showing, the 22-year-old scattered three hits over three scoreless frames at PNC Park on Sept. 29 vs. the Cubs.

The crown jewel that the Pirates landed in the Jameson Taillon deal in January 2021, Contreras spent most of the regular season dominating batters at Double-A Altoona. In 54 1/3 innings, he stacked up 76 strikeouts while recording a 2.65 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP.

In three appearances for the Javelinas, Contreras has compiled a 4.50 ERA, striking out seven batters across six innings.