If you take a look at raw stats for Brewers pitching prospects this season, one name stands tall above the rest.
After Saturday, forty innings, he’s struck out 55 batters for a pace of 12.4 per nine innings. That’s almost four times his walk rate (3.2 free BB/9). His worst DRA- at any stop this season is a cool 59.2, or an incredible 40 percent better than league average (in 2003, Pedro Martinez ran a 58 DRA-). His combined ERA is 3.15.
Yet this prospect lacks overpowering stuff and hasn’t appeared on any list of Milwaukee’s best farmhands. His name’s Miguel Sanchez, and he sneaked his way to Triple-A Colorado Springs for a few games this month after starting the season in Class-Advanced A Carolina. (He was subsequently sent back down to Double-A Biloxi.) Even so: At one point this season, at least in theory, Miguel Sanchez was a phone call away from the major leagues. With all the organizational depth the Brewers have created, who could have predicted that at the start of the year?
Eye-popping seasons are worth examining no matter their source, and Sanchez’s has been revelatory. He’s shown a surprising penchant for missing bats in the upper minors, with a combined strike out rate of 32.7 percent. That number is right between what Felipe Vazquez and Corey Knebel are doing in the majors. When opposing batters do manage to put the ball in play, they’re usually beating it into the ground (53.2 groundball percentage in Carolina, 41.3 percent in Biloxi, and an irrelevant 0 percent in two innings for the Sky Sox). Sanchez is walking 8.3 percent of all batters faced, which puts him two percentage points lower than Josh Hader. That means that subtracting his walk rate from strike out rate (K-BB) leaves an excellent 24.4, which would place him among the top 25 relief pitchers in the big leagues this year with at least 20 innings pitched.
That’s the good news. The bad news, of course, is that those numbers are largely irrelevant. You can’t transpose minor league stats into big league production, and “don’t scout the stat line” exists for a reason. Still, that’s a compelling stat line, the sort that’s usually predictive of future success. A wide array of traditional and advanced metrics are in agreement: Sanchez has been lights out this year. And results are results.
At 6’3” and 190 pounds, the right-handed Sanchez isn’t exactly undersized, but he’s also not the most imposing presence on the mound. An under-the-radar signing in January of 2016, Sanchez has spent most of his career pitching to younger competition, which partially explains the lack of scouting attention. He reached class-A Wisconsin as a 22-year-old towards the end of the 2016 season, then repeated that level in 2017 to middling results (4.26 DRA with a decent number of strikeouts but a lot of hits surrendered). He’s about the same age as the average Southern League pitcher this season for Biloxi; it’s encouraging to see him holding his own, though again, he’s surrendering a surprising number of hits for someone who strikes so many batters out.
Part of that may be attributable to his delivery. Sanchez whips the ball to the plate from a 3/4 arm slot, which is particularly deceptive to same-handed hitters; righties are mustering just a .594 OPS against Sanchez this year, compared to a .768 OPS from lefties. His fastball tops out in the low 90s and features some late sink that’s useful for coaxing bad swings and ground balls. His secondary offerings show a nice separation in velocity. He throws an occasionally promising changeup in the low- to mid-80s. At its best, the pitch fades away to his arm side and could go a long way towards helping Sanchez overcome his platoon struggles. An upper-70s curveball rounds out the mix. It has nice movement, but too often struggles to cross the plate; he’ll need to become more comfortable throwing the curve for a strike and not simply spiking it in 0-2 counts.
Add it all up, and it’s a reasonable profile. If Sanchez tightens up his command, he could probably turn into a solid low-leverage or situational reliever, with a chance for something more interesting should he enjoy a sudden uptick in stuff. That kind of profile, of course, is a dime a dozen, particularly in a pitching-rich Brewers organization. But Sanchez is turning some heads this year; he’s more on the map now than he ever was. With a strong end to the season and a good showing next spring, he could start to look pretty deserving of a roster spot. Whether he gets that opportunity with the Brewers is another story, but remember that Nick Franklin and Mike Zagurski have suited up for the Brew Crew this year. Anything can happen.