Sanoja's progress inspired by countryman Altuve's advice

June 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Christina De Nicola’s Marlins Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

MIAMI – Growing up in Maracay, Venezuela, Marlins No. 17 prospect looked up to his fellow countryman .

Not only does Sanoja play second base like Altuve, but he also has been doubted because of his undersized stature.

The 5-foot-7 Sanoja, who was a non-roster invite to Major League camp this spring after leading the system with 158 hits in 2023, got to meet his idol when the Marlins and Astros met during Grapefruit League play. He received memorable words of wisdom from the perennial All-Star.

“Altuve said, ‘Don't worry about if you're tall, you're strong,’” Sanoja said via Triple-A Jacksonville defensive coach Jose Ceballos. “‘You can play this game. Look at me, and just go every day to the field, prepare yourself well, try to play every position. That way you can open a lot of doors to play in the big leagues.’”

The 21-year-old Sanoja has taken the advice to heart.

After just 15 games at Double-A Pensacola, Sanoja earned a promotion to the Jumbo Shrimp on April 23. While the move surprised Sanoja, director of player development Rachel Balkovec has made it no secret the organization will be aggressive in challenging prospects.

“We put him in Triple-A and obviously it's a discussion,” Balkovec told in April. “He's young, he's not had a lot of time in Double-A, and it's kind of like, ‘Why not?’ Why not give guys a chance, instead of saying, ‘Hey, we think they're going to fail.’ What if they succeed? So just kind of the benefit of the doubt, if you will, and aggressive mindset with moving guys and letting them prove us wrong. Maybe he will be successful, and we just don't know. So obviously, we try to make informed decisions.”

Facing competition often more than five years older, Sanoja has more than held his own. Entering Sunday, he led Jacksonville with a .317 average and ranked third in OPS (.824). Sanoja had walked (21) more than struck out (11) in 52 games.

According to MLB Pipeline, Sanoja can repeatedly put the ball in play to all fields with a simple right-handed stroke. He ranked fourth in the Minors with a 7 percent strikeout rate in 2023, so his bat-to-ball skills are elite. Like other contact hitters, Sanoja can ambush an inside fastball on occasion. He has been working on his right hand getting on top of the ball.

“I think the combination of that skill in Triple-A and him not having to chase balls out or kind of expand the zone has really helped him,” director of Minor League operations Hector Crespo said. “It's been cool to see him continue the course.”

Never could Sanoja have imagined being one step away from the big leagues when the 2024 season started. Until that time comes, Sanoja hopes to stay consistent at the plate and continue to improve at shortstop with the help of Ceballos. Sanoja still feels most comfortable at second base and center field, but his high baseball IQ makes for a quick learning curve.

“First of all, the timing of God is perfect,” Sanoja said. “Of course, as a professional baseball player, you want to play in the big leagues. I don't want to think [about] that yet. Just play hard every day at Triple-A and hopefully I get that goal as soon as possible.

“I don't think a lot [about] what will be my goal this year. In my mind, every day I need to prepare myself to play well offensively [and] defensively. Good things are coming when I think like that. If I think too much in goals, there will be pressure, and I don't want to feel that.”

Here are top performers at the other full-season affiliates:

Double-A Pensacola
Catcher Joe Mack (No. 26 prospect), who was promoted to the Blue Wahoos on April 21, has gone deep in three of his last five games. The 21-year-old has a slash line of .273/.351/.682 in 74 plate appearances in June.

High-A Beloit
Since being promoted to the Sky Carp on May 28, 19-year-old left-handed pitcher Thomas White (No. 3 prospect, MLB Pipeline No. 87 overall) has a 1.35 ERA (two earned runs in 13 1/3 innings) with 20 strikeouts and six walks across three starts.

Single-A Jupiter
22-year-old right-handed pitcher Jake Brooks, who was selected in the 11th round of last July's MLB Draft, has given up one run over 19 innings across three starts this month for a 0.47 ERA. He has struck out 13 and walked two.