Sanchez excels with Jays
Barstow pitcher a top MLB prospect
Trying to pin down Aaron Sanchez these days is a tough assignment. Since graduating from Barstow High School, his athletic abilities have taken him all over the country.
“We were in Michigan, then Indiana, and now we’re in Kentucky,” said Sanchez one night recently from his cell phone on the Lansing Lugnuts’ team bus. “I’ve been really busy, but I finally have some down time.”
Aztecs’ baseball fans will no doubt recall Sanchez. He starred for the varsity team until his graduation in 2010. His last two years of high school were when he started to believe that maybe he could make a living playing ball. These days, he’s well on his way to making that dream a reality.
His senior year with the Aztecs was an exciting time for the Barstow pitcher. By then, word of his talents on the mound had gotten around the baseball world, and he was drawing the regular attention of major league scouts. He remembers one late-season game in particular where there were scouts all along the outfield lines.
“I had a good senior year and was hearing rumbles,” said Sanchez. “I knew what I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there. But then everything started falling into place.”
The scouts weren’t there solely to watch Sanchez pitch.
“They watch how you work, how you stretch, warm up,” he said. “They want to see how you react to certain situations and even look in the dugout to see how you handle things between innings. They want to know as much as they can about what kind of player you are.”
That led to the next step, meeting with and being interviewed by the scouts from teams that had an interest in drafting him. That might sound like a pretty uncomplicated process, but it was something that made Sanchez a bit uncomfortable.
“Every team has an area scout, and they ask questions about lots of things; about baseball, about what kind of kid you are. It was a very humbling experience for me,” said Sanchez. “It was a fun thing to be a part of, but definitely something I don’t want to do again.”
Once that part was over, it was a waiting game for draft day. Sanchez needn’t have worried; he was selected in the first round, 34th overall, by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft.
“Draft day was the best day of my life,” Sanchez says.
The Barstow pitcher went right from high school to Rookie baseball, starting his major league career with the Bluefield (West Virginia) Blue Jays of the Appalachian League. He went 0-2 in 2010, pitching 19 innings and allowing three earned runs on 19 hits, walking 12 and striking out 28. Despite not getting a win, he carried a tiny 1.42 ERA.
Like all young players, he had to make the adjustment to minor league ball.
“There are so many things that go on. The strike zone is a little different than high school, the hitters have a lot more discipline at the plate and you have to make pitch after pitch. In my first year I kind of struggled,” said Sanchez. “It was an eye-opener for me, having to deal with giving up a big amount of runs. I’d never dealt with that before, but it helped me learn to deal with adversity.
“This year is a lot better.”
Sanchez started last season back at Bluefield, but was promoted to the Class A Vancouver Canadians before it was over. Though Vancouver was another step up the minor league ladder, it is also, like Bluefield, a short-season team, playing from mid-June to the first week of September.
This year, Sanchez will be a lot busier, since he was promoted to Lansing of the Midwest League. The Lugnuts begin their season in April, just like the big leagues, and end a month sooner, in early September.
How Sanchez will hold up over a five-month season is yet to be determined, but he got off to a fast start. He put the Midwest League on notice by giving up no runs in his first 19 innings pitched. The Blue Jays organization ranks him at seventh among its top 20 prospects. Currently, he has a 7-0 record and 0.63 ERA. In 57 innings he’s allowed four earned runs on 29 hits, walked 30 and struck out 62.
Those numbers led to his being selected for the Midwest League All-Star Game. The game pits the eight Eastern Division teams against the eight Western Division teams. Sanchez played for the East, which won, 18-2.
The All-Star break, June 17-21, signaled the end of the first half of the season, with Lansing winning the East. Everything gets reset for the second half.
Right after the break, Sanchez got back to work. He celebrated his 20th birthday on July 1 by getting his seventh win of the season as the Lugnuts beat the South Bend Silver Hawks, 6-1. Over five innings pitched, he gave up no runs on three hits, walking one and striking out six.
The next day, he was named the Midwest League Pitcher of the Week for June 25-July 1.
Minor league coaches know a potential big league star when they see one, and Vince Horsman, the Lansing pitching coach, is a big fan of Sanchez.
“Aaron has overpowering stuff,” he said. “His fastball sits anywhere from 93 to 98 (mph). He's got a power breaking ball and a power changeup. He gets the ball around the plate. His stuff plays above the level he's at. He obviously has stuff to work on, and that's why he's at the level he's at. But his stuff is probably the best in the league.”
Pretty heady stuff for the young pitcher from Barstow. For his part, these days Sanchez is focusing on adjusting to minor league life and keeping to a regular schedule. As a pitcher who takes the mound every fifth day, he’s on a strict regimen.
“The first day after a start, I’ll get to the ballpark around 12:30 (for a 7:05 p.m. game), do a little running, stretching, conditioning, run through plays. On day two I throw side, then stretch, run, and do some upper-body lifting,” Sanchez says. “I’ll do a light lower workout on day three, some running, batting practice, shag some flies. Day four is the easiest day, some game prep, stretching, throwing, sprints.
“Day five is my late day, I’ll get to the park between 4-5 p.m. and do my stretch routine. At 6:42 I start throwing pre-game in the bullpen, and at 7:05, it’s time to shine.”
One thing Sanchez has discovered over the past couple of years: though the lifestyle may not be for everyone, he’s looking forward to making a career out of playing ball.
“I’m living every kid’s dream. It’s an honor to be where I am, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” he said. “Without a doubt, my competitiveness is what drives me. I want to tell my kids and grandkids that I was once a major leaguer.”
With the numbers he’s been putting up and the honors he’s been collecting, Sanchez is likely to be moving on soon. The next step up the Jays’ ladder are the Dunedin Blue Jays of the Florida State League, high-level Class A. After that it’s the Class AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats of the Eastern League, and then the much-closer-to-home AAA Las Vegas 51s of the Pacific Coast League. Next stop after that: Toronto.
On his journey there, Sanchez stays grounded through his ties to his hometown. Barstow High wasn’t that long ago, and his family and friends are always here to welcome him when he comes home. Not to mention his loyal fans.
“It’ll always be home for me,” he said. “It’s amazing how people keep up with me. It’s humbling to be from such a small town and have the fan base I do. It’s unreal.”