MIAMI -- When the Marlins laid out their offseason checklist, acquiring outfield bats became one of their top priorities.
So before the lockout, Miami signed one of the top free agents, Avisaíl García. As an expedited Spring Training progressed, it became clear the club wouldn't be able to pick up a natural center fielder, so it inked reigning World Series MVP Jorge Soler to man left. That meant rolling with Jesús Sánchez in center despite him not playing the position since 2019 at Triple-A.
In the early going, the organization’s move has paid off. While the lineup struggled the first week of the season, Sánchez flourished in the middle of the order. The rest of the bats appear to be catching up, as Miami won its second straight against Philadelphia, 7-1, on Friday night at loanDepot park.
Sánchez went 2-for-5 with a double, a triple and two RBIs. He now has multihit games in four of his last five and has reached in all but one contest during the young season. Entering Friday, Sánchez had driven in the decisive runs in Miami’s first two victories of the season.
“He has great confidence up there,” bench coach James Rowson said. “He has a good eye at the plate, and he's another one, kind of like [Jazz Chisholm Jr.], he's determined when he goes up there. Failure bothers him. You can tell it bothers him, because he expects himself to be a good player. He knows what kind of player he is, and he's going to keep growing. But when I watch him, a guy that can use the whole field and drive it to all fields with power are special players in this game. The more he plays, the better off he is going to continue to be.”
The organization's confidence in Sánchez isn't new. The Marlins sent Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards to the Rays for Sánchez and Ryne Stanek at the 2019 Trade Deadline. Last June, they dealt Corey Dickerson to give Sánchez regular starts. He cemented that faith with a 111 OPS+ in 64 games (he missed a month due to COVID-19).
The 24-year-old Sánchez’s power is enticing. He recorded three of the top five exit velocities on Friday, per Statcast, including a game-high 111.1 mph exit velo on his RBI double in the first inning. And while he has -1 defensive runs saved and 0 outs above average so far in 2022, he continues to look more and more comfortable in center while playing at spacious Oracle Park and loanDepot park. Part of the organization’s trust in this center-field experiment was due to Sánchez's elite outfield jumps (97th percentile) and routes.
What Rowson is most impressed by is Sánchez figuring out how pitchers are attacking him and game planning accordingly. Third baseman Joey Wendle, who played with the Rays from 2018-20, saw Sánchez’s potential as a former top prospect at Tampa Bay’s big league camp.
“I remember hitting on the same field as him and looking to a coach thinking, 'Who's this guy? He's good. He can swing.'” Wendle said. “And it's true. He was good and he can swing.”
Led by Sánchez, the Marlins on Friday scored in the first inning for the first time in 2022 to back Pablo López (5 1/3 scoreless innings). Soler snapped an 0-for-13 skid with a leadoff double against righty Zach Eflin and came home on Sánchez’s double. That equaled Miami’s hit total in the opening frame all season. Jesús Aguilar followed with a single for his first RBI of the season; he later added two more on a pair of sacrifice flies. Prior to season-ending knee surgery last September, Aguilar was tied for second in the NL in RBIs (93).
Much like Chisholm, who also debuted in 2020, Sánchez doesn’t have to be “the guy.” There is protection throughout the lineup with veterans surrounding them. With that comes less pressure. Whether it be coincidence or not, Chisholm (1.142) and Sánchez (1.023) pace all Marlins regulars in OPS.
“Having him behind me, it gives me the trust if I get on base, I know he's going to bring me in,” Sánchez said of Aguilar via an interpreter. “So that's what I've been doing. I've been swinging, getting on base, and trusting wherever I am, he's going to bring me in.”