I get somewhat spoiled by getting to see the Rome Braves this season. Nearly every time I go, one of baseball’s exciting young pitching prospects takes the mound. Whether it is Max Fried or Mike Soroka, the Rome Braves rotation is stacked with big names like Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint and Patrick Weigel.
Last night, I didn’t see any of those names, but walked away impressed with the pitcher I saw. It says a lot about the depth on the Braves pipeline.
Shae Simmons started the game, making another rehab appearance. He made short work of the Columbia Fireflies, throwing six whole pitches and inducing three quick ground ball outs. His night was over and he handed the ball to Ricardo Sanchez.
Sanchez is the Braves 19-year old left-handed pitching prospect acquired in 2015 in a deal with the Los Angeles Angels. He came at a low cost — Kyle Kubitza and Nate Hyatt — and may be proving to be quite a steal. His stat lines may fool you as he sits at 9-17 with a career 4.89 ERA, but he clearly has the stuff to succeed.
I didn’t know much about Sanchez, having never seen any live action from him. Talking with the Rome Braves media guys, they gushed about his stuff, pointing to his July 1st start in which he struck out 11 and walked one over seven innings. He has a solid fastball that I was told sits in the low-90s and a curve ball that he can get guys chasing and had impressive command of for someone three years younger than the average age of the Sally.
They said his biggest issues were surrounding inconsistency and the inability to avoid that one bad inning. I saw bits of both Friday night, but overall walked away extremely impressed with what I saw.
Sanchez isn’t imposing on the mound, standing at just 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds. He has a smooth delivery, that he repeats pretty well. When he starts an inning and has no runners on, he straddles the mound, with his glove over his face, in the guise like Andy Pettitte or Randy Johnson (maybe it’s a lefty thing?). He works the first base side of the mound but comes right at the batter.
The first inning was a quick 1-2-3 job, as he threw seven of his 11 pitches for strikes. He topped out at 94 and struck out a batter on some nice 93 mile per hour heat. The second inning, I noticed he had a changed approach when runners were on. He stands more in the middle of the mound, hunched over with his arm dangling low. He seemed at first to struggle with the change, but later in the game it became more of a non-issue.
That second inning I also noticed something I liked. With runners on first and second and one out, he would hone in and throw strikes, striking out the first batter and inducing a ground ball to the next. He got out of the jam landing five of those six pitches in the strike zone. He would do the same in the fourth. With a runner on third and one out, Sanchez was locked in striking out consecutive batters looking.
Sanchez took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Heading into that seventh inning, he had landed 43 of his 77 pitches for strikes. The interesting thing I noticed is that when he walked a batter, which was a bit too often on this warm, Rome summer night, they came on four straight pitches. When you see the way he clamps down when he is in trouble and throws strikes, you have to wonder if it is a matter of focus as opposed to any issues with his mechanics.
The seventh inning was the inning I was told earlier about in the evening. He lost his no-hitter to the first batter with a ground rule double and then threw eight pitches out of the zone loading the bases. His fastball command was iffy the last two innings and it hurt him here. The velocity had dropped to the high-80s (usually hitting 89) at this point. His changeup, which had come in as high as 85, was hittable most of the night and he had trouble landing his curve (which was nice and hit 77 a bunch of times) as the night grew on as well. Oriel L Caicedo would come in with the bases loaded and allow all three of Sanchez’s runs to score.
His final line wasn’t anything to brag about as he hurled five innings, walking six and striking out four and those three runs that scored. There were positives to walk away from, however, and I think Sanchez has the goods to develop into a serviceable pitcher down the line. He needs to find a way to harness the stuff he threw when he was in trouble all of the time, not just when he needs to. The Braves have the luxury of allowing him the time to develop, with both youth and depth on their side, so it will be interesting to see if they see him as a backend of the rotation guy, or a swingman type reliever down the road.