Six of the Marlins’ top 10 minor league prospects are pitchers, according to Baseball America.
Angel Sanchez, a 24-year old right-hander who is the only piece from last July’s Ricky Nolasco trade still in the Marlins organization, isn’t listed among those top six hurlers.
But when the Marlins take on the University of Miami at Roger Dean Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, it’s Sanchez — who tossed six scoreless innings in a combined no-hitter for Single A Jupiter shortly after the Marlins got him — that will throw the first pitch of the exhibition season.
“He might be a little nervous Wednesday, but he has the stuff to [pitch at the big league level],” Marlins pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal said. “From the end of the season to now, he’s changed my view of him. Let’s put it that way.”
A tall, lanky 6-3, 180 pounds, Sanchez is expected to begin the 2014 season in Double A Jacksonville. But he’s an intriguing prospect to watch. For one, his fastball topped out at 98 miles per hour last season and he’s hit 99 in the minors before.
But like most young fire-ballers control means everything. So does taking instruction.
Rosenthal said he and Sanchez butted heads last year because Sanchez wanted to continue to use a cutter Rosenthal called “his crutch.” Rosenthal wanted it out so Sanchez could focus on improving his curveball and changeup as well as the command on his fastball.
“I wouldn’t say he fought it, but he was stubborn,” Rosenthal said. “If you’re 98 and all over the place then it just says you throw 98 and it means nothing.
“Now he’s buying into it. His fastball command has improved. His changeup and curveball have gotten better. I’m probably going to give him the cutter back soon.”
Despite being born and raised in the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic, and having an uncle who pitched in the major leagues (former Diamondbacks right-hander Geraldo Guzman), Sanchez said he didn’t pick up a baseball until he was 14.
Although he played on his high school team, Sanchez said he was always more focused on academics. His dream job was to work on airplanes. So when he got to college he stopped playing baseball to focus on school.
“My grandmother used to say what you study is the only thing that lasts with you the rest of your life. Baseball isn’t going to last forever,” Sanchez said.
Eventually, Guzman convinced Sanchez to give baseball another shot and to play for his college team. Once Sanchez began pitching in college, big league teams came to watch. The Dodgers finally convinced Sanchez to put school off and he signed with them for $7,500.
“I still have in mind to finish college,” said Sanchez, who said he has two semesters to complete to graduate. “Once I get more stable playing baseball, I’ll start taking classes online. I’d like to be a teacher down the road, a physical education teacher.”
After going 8-4 with a 2.82 ERA, 84 strikeouts and 39 walks his first minor league season in 2011 in the low-A Midwest League, Sanchez had a rough 2012 campaign in high-A ball for the Dodgers (6-12 with a 6.58 ERA and 26 home runs allowed).
The rough season landed him back in the Midwest League last year. But there was a reason for the woes. Sanchez said his grandmother passed away during the off-season, and the loss was tough for him to deal with.
“She was sick and nobody would tell me anything because it was the middle of the season,” Sanchez said. “I felt something the whole season that wouldn’t leave me alone. It was very hard for me when she passed because she raised me since I was 3 months old.”
Getting traded to the Marlins has been a welcome change of scenery for Sanchez. He went 4-3 with a 3.22 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 21 walks in 10 starts for Jupiter. This year he wants to continue to build on his success and make his grandmother proud.
“My grandmother always wanted me to play baseball because she knew how much I loved it,” Sanchez said. “She also said one day she wanted to see me in a big league stadium with all the lights on.
“I want to make it for her.”
• Manager Mike Redmond said pitcher Justin Nicolino, rated the 12th-best left-handed prospect in the game by Baseball America, will start Thursday against FIU. Right-handers Jose Urena, Bryan Evans, Michael Brady, Nick Wittgren and Colby Suggs will follow.