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Sanchez has skill set to be dominant starter

Top-ranked prospect inducing swings and misses in Arizona Fall League

In a recent Arizona Fall League game, Toronto Blue Jays pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez started against Minnesota Twins pitching prospect Alex Meyer. I have seen them face each other twice.

It was a game that may have foreshadowed future elite pitching matchups in the American League. On that beautiful November afternoon in Arizona, both Sanchez and Meyer served notice regarding their top-of-the-rotation potential. The two are similar in stature and pitching mechanics. Both use high-velocity fastballs to set up their quality secondary pitches.

Sanchez, who hails from Barstow, Calif., is 6-foot-4 and weighs 190 pounds, but in reality, the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect could stand to add a bit more meat to his lanky frame.

Like quality baseball players in the current generation, Sanchez made a huge name for himself pitching in high school and on the summer travel team circuit. Prior to being selected by the Blue Jays, he went 7-0 with a 0.73 ERA while striking out 104 in 57 2/3 innings at Barstow High School. Sanchez also hit .403 with five home runs. In a word, he was dominant.

Scouts flocked to watch Sanchez pitch. He was selected by the Blue Jays as a compensation pick in the No. 34 slot of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.

I have been watching Sanchez pitch for Salt River in this season's Arizona Fall League. The 21-year-old and fellow Blue Jays pitching teammate Marcus Stroman, who is the club's No. 3 prospect, have been extremely effective on the mound.

I admit I was less than impressed with the first start Sanchez made this fall. I was expecting better command and control than he delivered. Frankly, I think Sanchez was a bit rusty.

Fast-forward from that first start in early October to the first week in November, and Sanchez looked completely different. Sanchez had a good enough fall to be tabbed as the starting pitcher for the East team in the Arizona Fall League's Fall Stars Game in November. And it was a matchup of Sanchez and West starter Meyer.

Taking the mound with an aura of confidence, Sanchez is finding a rhythm and flow to his mechanics that have allowed him to throw strikes and induce swings and misses -- lots of swings and misses. Using a fastball that has hit 94 mph with regularity and an occasional 96 mph for good measure, Sanchez is now setting up hitters by using both corners and pitching up and down, changing eye levels with regularity.

Sanchez is showing enough control and command of his high-velocity fastball that he is confident in "climbing the ladder" on the hitter and throwing his four-seam fastball in the hitter's eyes. Too tempted to lay off a pitch they can see, the hitters are regularly swinging through the pitch. It's a very effective weapon.

As if the high heat isn't enough, Sanchez is not shy about pitching inside. In fact, in the fifth inning of a recent game I saw, he hit a batter and rattled his own confidence as a result. The only blemish in Sanchez's five-inning no-hit performance was an error and that hit batsman.

Fluid and able to finish his pitches from an upright position on the mound, Sanchez shows a bit more struggle pitching from the stretch. Still too upright in my view, and not getting the advantage of pitching downhill, Sanchez is more tentative from the stretch.

Hitters really can't sit on the fastball with Sanchez on the mound. Once he feels the hitter has a certain comfort level, Sanchez busts a beautiful 77-78 mph curveball or a knee-buckling 87-mph changeup to alter the balance of the batter. His offspeed and secondary pitches are efficient and effective.

Having completed parts of four seasons as a professional, Sanchez pitched at Class A Advanced Dunedin this past season. He started 20 of 22 games in which he pitched, going 86 1/3 innings and yielding only 63 hits. Sanchez threw to a 3.34 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. He walked an average of 4.2 batters and struck out an average of 7.8 batters per nine innings.

After throwing 256 Minor League innings, commanding his pitches will still be the single greatest challenge for Sanchez. If he is the pitcher I saw in the first start this fall, hitters will wait for their pitch and sit on the fastball. I don't see that happening.

I believe Sanchez can become a top-of-the-rotation starter if he can more frequently showcase the dominating take-charge demeanor and the smooth delivery I saw most recently.

Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff; on Twitter.
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