Back in July 2015, the Pirates signed a small, speedy outfielder named Kevin Sanchez out of the Dominican Republic for $450,000. He was known as Lolo by the time fans in the United States got to see him in any fashion, and after a pedestrian debut in the Dominican Summer
Back in July 2015, the Pirates signed a small, speedy outfielder named Kevin Sanchez out of the Dominican Republic for $450,000. He was known as Lolo by the time fans in the United States got to see him in any fashion, and after a pedestrian debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2016, he started making it look like Lolo would be a household name in Pittsburgh eventually with a very strong U.S. debut in the Gulf Coast League a summer later.
The teenager added to his legend in big league Spring Training before the start of the 2018 season. It was just one appearance, but he raised his profile with a straight steal of home. Everyone was excited for what 2018 would bring, and the Pirates pushed him aggressively to the full-season South Atlantic League just shy of his 19th birthday.
• Pirates instructional league roster, schedule
Instructional league rosters
That's where things started to go sideways for the young prospect. He hit just .163 out of the gate in April and while he did improve upon that with a .275/.362/.347 second half and finished with 30 stolen bases, it was a very up-and-down year for the Pirates' No. 10 prospect. He took those lessons with him into a very productive stint in instructional league play for the Pirates in Bradenton, which wrapped up late last week.
"A lot of guys, especially offensively, are starting to move some things forward," Pirates farm director Larry Broadway said. "Lolo had a rough year, but now he's staying behind the ball better with some better lower-half foundation. He seems to be grabbing a hold of it."
Some of Sanchez's issues were mental. Dealing with "playing under the lights" for the first time, against a much higher level of competition, got the better of him at times. The Pirates saw some positives, but will continue to work on his ability to figure things out more quickly.
"He handled it pretty well, not excellently," Broadway said of Sanchez's ability to deal with adversity. "He would've been able to make faster adjustments in a perfect world. There were some bright spots, there were times he had tough luck, and he had some spots when he just wasn't good at all. The league punched him in the mouth, he punched back, then the league punched again. Now he's making some advancements that are encouraging."
Many of those advancements are about his balance at the plate. Sanchez teed off on fastballs in the Gulf Coast League, and when he started seeing more and better breaking stuff, he got off-kilter in the box.
"His balance got exposed, got him on his front foot a decent amount," Broadway said. "We've hammered out his foundation, he's more adjustable in the box and he's committing to the approach with more conviction. He might work out with his winter ball team to continue his progress, but we're encouraged with his ability to stay balanced in the box.
Pitchers showing encouraging signs
Sanchez wasn't the only one moving in the right direction at instructs. A couple of sidelined young arms also have arrows pointing up. One is left-hander Braeden Ogle, the 2016 fourth-round pick who seemed primed to take a nice step forward with a solid showing in the Rookie-level Appalachian League in '17. But he made just four starts in April in the SAL, spanning 17 innings, in 2018 due to a shoulder issue. He threw side sessions and some simulated games in Bradenton, with Broadway and staff cautiously optimistic he's putting the injury behind him.
Then there's right-hander Gage Hinsz. The organization's No. 19 prospect was a project taken out of the Montana high school ranks in the 2014 Draft and was making slow but steady progress up the ladder. He had reached the Class A Advanced Florida State League in '17, though he scuffled there, and a scapula stress fracture ended his year a bit early.
The 22-year-old didn't throw a competitive pitch in 2018, but not because of that injury. It was discovered that Hinsz had a faulty valve in his heart, and while it wasn't impacting his ability to throw, it obviously was something he needed to get taken care of. But he's back on the mound and is now in the Dominican to get some game action in the Pirates' instructional league there after shaking off some rust in Bradenton.
"He looks good on the mound," Broadway said. "The ball is coming out well, it wasn't an arm injury. He's champing at the bit and isn't worried or hesitant. He'll pitch in Dominican instructs games, get a couple weeks worth of games there, then maybe some more innings after that in winter ball. He's trending up."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.