Sixto leads generation inspired by Pedro

October 7th, 2020

wears No. 73 on his back. But the number tattooed on his neck -- and housed in his heart -- is 45.

That was Pedro Martínez’s number. And Sánchez, who struck out six batters in five scoreless frames in his postseason debut for the upstart Marlins in Game 2 of their Wild Card Series against the Cubs, is a proud member of Generation Pedro -- a legion of young players from the Dominican Republic who was inspired by Martínez and has fortified 45.

More than a decade after his final appearance and five years after his Hall of Fame induction, Martínez’s presence is felt in these playoffs -- most viscerally via Sánchez’s dead-ringer delivery, which has inspired Pedro himself to label Sixto a “Mini-Me with better stuff.”

“Since I was little, I always loved the way Pedro played the game,” Sánchez said through an interpreter. “Pedro had really nasty pitches -- the curveball, the slider, everything. He was one of the reasons I fell in love with the game.”

Pedro’s presence was such that we came to know him on a first-name basis.

Sixto might be next.

A native of San Cristóbal, the right-handed Sánchez wore No. 45 at the Class A Advanced and Double-A levels in the Minor Leagues, where he established himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the game and the Marlins’ key acquisition in the 2019 trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies. Upon his promotion to the Major Leagues on Aug. 22, Sánchez felt compelled to stick with the Spring Training-issued No. 73 jersey -- a number more commonly attributed to NFL linemen.

But he plans to switch back to 45 next year.

“That’s my favorite number,” said Sánchez, who had a 3.46 ERA and a 129 ERA+ in 39 innings across seven starts in the regular season.

That’s a common sentiment among Martínez’s countrymen. When interviewed players at the Rookie Career Development Program early this year, we asked them what number they prefer to wear and why. Three pitchers from the Dominican Republic responded that they wear -- or would like to wear -- No. 45.

“It was the number that Pedro wore,” said Yankees prospect Deivi García, who went on to make his debut this year wearing the team-issued No. 83 (No. 45 is taken by Gerrit Cole). “A lot of Dominican players want that number.”

We did some digging. No. 45 was worn by 162 players at the Minor League level in 2019 (the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the '20 Minor League season).

One of those players, naturally, was Pedro Martínez Jr., a third baseman who played at the Rookie-ball level for the Tigers’ organization last year.

“It was an obvious number choice,” Pedro Jr. said. “It’s the number in the family, and I want to keep the process going. The number has to keep going in the game.”

It certainly appears it will.

Of the 160 affiliated Minor League teams in 2019, 132 had a player wear No. 45. Among those 132 teams, No. 45 was worn by a Dominican-born player on 55 of them (42 percent). No. 45 was worn by a Dominican pitcher on 49 of those 132 teams (37 percent). To put those percentages in context, Dominican-born players accounted for 22.6 percent of the total player pool in the Minors last year and 23.5 percent of all Minor League pitchers.

So it would appear Pedro’s 45 is more than just a number.

“To me, Pedro signifies something grand,” said Astros rookie right-hander Cristian Javier, who was issued No. 53 in the bigs. “He’s one of the icons of the Dominican Republic baseball, and he’s somebody we always looked up to back home.”

Javier, García and Sánchez could all end up having an impact on how this postseason plays out. And for all of them, watching Pedro pitch for the Red Sox in the playoffs -- specifically the 2004 World Series title run -- was a formative baseball experience at a young age.

“Wow,” Sánchez remembered thinking to himself, “when I grow up, I want to be like him.”

He’s on his way. In three of his first four starts, Sánchez allowed two runs or fewer in six innings or more. His four-seam fastball has averaged 98.6 mph, per Statcast, and his sinker and changeup both get above-average horizontal and vertical movement. Sánchez has shown the potential to be elite in both stuff and command, and he has also impressed with Pedro-like poise.

Martínez has taken notice.

“When I watch him,” Pedro said on MLB Network recently, “I’m able to see what I was never able to see -- myself pitching in a game. ... I think this kid is that special.”

Once he makes the official move to No. 45 next year, Sánchez’s jersey will again align with his ink. He got the “45” tattoo last year as permanent homage to his baseball idol. And if the Minor League numbers tell us anything, long after his final pitch, Pedro’s 45 still has a similarly durable place in the sport.

Generation Pedro is upon us.