The Miami Marlins were cautious with Sixto Sanchez in 2019.
And for good reason.
They know the 21-year-old pitcher — the top prospect in their farm system — has the potential to be a front-of-the-rotation starter in the near future. That’s why they made sure he was part of the package they received from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto in February.
That talent was on full display this season, with the hard-throwing righty compiling a 2.76 ERA and nearly five-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio in 114 innings, primarily with the Double A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
Sanchez’s innings total this year was almost 20 higher than his previous single-season high of 95 back in 2017.
But they also know Sanchez’s history of injury — namely the right elbow inflammation that shut him down after just eight starts and 46 2/3 innings in 2018.
So after a year of career innings and marked development, that cautious approach might work in the club’s favor again in 2020, when Sanchez will surely be knocking on the door for an MLB call up barring any type of setback.
“Just to see what our development people have done with Sixto Sanchez, from where he was, and to clean up his delivery,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said, “just allowing him to double his career innings this year, it’s a tremendous credit to our guys in development and what they’ve been able to do.”
The Marlins have a host of starting pitching prospects at the top of their farm system, with Nick Neidert in Triple A the most likely to be the first called up.
Sanchez and fellow Double A rotation-mates Jorge Guzman and Edward Cabrera are likely the next in line.
Sanchez checks in at baseball’s No. 23 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline and the No. 8 overall pitching prospect.
He has the raw stuff, a high-90s fastball complemented by a sinker, slider and change-up that all go for strikes. The main goal is to keep him healthy after being shut down early last season with right elbow inflammation.
After a month in extended spring training with a few controlled starts on the back fields mixed in, Sanchez needed just six starts in Class A Advanced Jupiter before getting called up to the Jumbo Shrimp.
He hit a rough patch early in his time in Double A but rebounded to finish by giving up just three earned runs over his final 40 1/3 innings.
“He’s learning to become a pitcher overall,” Jumbo Shrimp manager Kevin Randel said earlier this year. “It just so happens he has a 100-mph fastball as well. He can pitch on the edges.”
Sanchez, who will have to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason, will have an opportunity to participate in his first big-league spring training in February. This will give the coaching staff a glimpse into how his development translates to major league hitting.
After that, he’ll likely either get a couple warm-up starts in Double A or be moved up to Triple A to begin the 2020 season.
If all goes well, a major league debut in the middle of the season isn’t out of the question.
“With all the hard work that we’re doing, I feel like I’m almost here,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully, that’s going to be the case next year.”