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Prospect Smackdown: Sanchez vs. Nippert

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Per Reader Request, a Prospect Smackdown for Anibal Sanchez and Dustin Nippert

BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
Sanchez: Anibal Sanchez was signed by the Boston Red Sox out of Venezuela in 2001. After two decent campaigns in the Venezuelan Summer League, he hurt his elbow and had to have nerve transposition surgery in 2003. But he returned healthy and effective in '04, emerging as one of Boston's top pitching prospects. The Sox rated him behind Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester however, so Sanchez was the guy shipped to Florida in the Josh Beckett trade. Coaches rate him highly for his intelligence on the mound, attitude, and work ethic.
Nippert: Dustin Nippert was drafted in the 15th round in 2002, from West Virginia University. He pitched brilliantly in his pro debut, and followed that up with a solid '03 season, until hurting his elbow early in 2004 and having to undergo Tommy John surgery. He returned effectively last season, pitched very well in Double-A, regaining his reputation as Arizona's top pitching prospect. He has occasionally had problems with self-confidence, but is highly-regarded for his work ethic and intelligence on the mound.
Advantage: Both pitchers have had serious elbow injuries but came back healthy. Both are regarded as intelligent and hard-working. Sanchez doesn't seem to have had the same self-confidence problems that Nippert has had on occasion, but I don't want to make too much of that, and Nippert (like Sanchez) deserves credit for successfully rehabbing from surgery. Overall this is either even or a slight advantage for Sanchez.

PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
Sanchez: Sanchez is a righthanded hitter and thrower, born February 27, 1984, listed at 6-0, 180 pounds. His fastball can hit 95 MPH, though he works more comfortably at 90-93. His fastball has very good action and is not a straight pitch. His changeup is excellent, but his breaking ball (sometimes described as a curve, sometimes described as a slider, we can call it a slurve) is erratic and is the main thing he needs to improve. His command and control are excellent, and he does the little things well on the mound.
Nippert: Nippert is a righthanded hitter and thrower, born May 6, 1981, listed at 6-7, 215 pounds. Tommy John surgery did not reduce the velocity on his fastball, consistent at 91-94 MPH and sometimes as high as 95-96. His fastball has excellent action low in the strike zone, helping him inhibit extra-base hits. Nippert's curveball is outstanding when it works, but it doesn't always work. His changeup is average. His control is OK but not terrific, and was the main thing he struggled with in his brief major league trial last year.
Advantage: Nippert throws a bit harder more consistently. Sanchez has a better changeup, but Nippert has a better breaking ball. Overall I will give Nippert a slight edge.

PERFORMANCE and SKILLS
Sanchez: Sanchez entered 2006 with a career minor league mark of 22-16, 2.77, with a 396/103 K/BB in 328 innings, with 18 homers allowed out of 239 hits. Sanchez is currently 2-4, 3.99 in nine starts for Double-A Carolina, with a 47/16 K/BB in 47 innings. As stated above, he has a good feel for pitching and changes speeds very well. He is a pitcher, not a thrower.
Nippert: Nippert entered 2006 with a career minor league mark of 20-14, 2.65 in 339 innings, with a 343/123 K/BB ratio, allowing just 10 homers out of 280 hits. Despite his erratic control, he does demonstrate a good feel for pitching and is not just a thrower. He is currently 5-0, 3.51 in six starts for Triple-A Tucson, with a 35/16 K/BB in 41 innings.
Advantage: Their stats entering this year are very similar. Both have more than a strikeout-per-inning on their resume. Sanchez has shown better control, but Nippert does a better job suppressing the home run. Also note that Nippert has pitched in more difficult environments than Sanchez. Overall I think I will call this even, Sanchez' control advantage being outweighed by Nippert's ability to stop home runs and his good pitching in rough parks.

PROJECTION
Sanchez: Sanchez is 22 years old. His fastball isn't projected to get much faster than it already is, due to his size. Most see him as developing into a potential number two or three starter at the major league level. Possible comparison: the current version of Javier Vazquez?.
Nippert: Nippert is 25, and as such he has less classic projection than Sanchez due to the difference in years. However, if he can improve his command a bit more, his physical upside may be higher, even if he has less time left to reach that upside. Possible comparison: Darryl Kile with fewer home runs allowed?
Advantage: I don't think either pitcher projects as a number one starter, at least not consistently, but both should be solid 2-3 guys.

SUMMARY
Nippert and Sanchez aren't guys that you normally pare together in your mind, but as you can see they compare pretty well together. Both are good examples of Grade B+ starting pitching prospects. I rate Sanchez a slight advantage in intangibles, with Nippert having the edge in physicality and tools. They are even in performance/skills, and even overall in projection. Overall I think I would rather have Nippert....the lack of home runs really intrigues me....but both of them are fine prospects.