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Baseball – Sanchez Starring in Lakewood; More Local Baseball Notes

A decade or two ago, a fastball that reaches 100 miles-per-hour would enough to land an 18-year-old pitcher among the best handful of prospects in baseball.

In an era of unprecedented fastball velocity, however, when it’s almost as though it takes 95 miles per hour to get your foot in the door, 100 mile-per-hour fastballs have gone from a golden ticket to a jumping off point.

Okay, so you throw 100. What else you got?

To say that Sixto Sanchez has a fastball that touches 100 would be inaccurate because Sanchez does not touch 100. He blows past 100. The rising, 18-year-old Philadelphia Phillies right-handed pitching prospect has been clocked as high as 102 miles-per-hour this season, most recently during his Monday start in Charleston against the Class-A affiliate of the Yankees.

Phillies prospect and current BlueClaws right-hander Sixto Sanchez. (Photo: MILB.com)
Phillies prospect and current BlueClaws right-hander Sixto Sanchez. (Photo: MILB.com)

By lighting up the radar gun, Sanchez has put himself squarely on the radar of baseball fans and the ones who know him most intimately are the Jersey Shore locals who have watched him flash his eye-catching repertoire at FirstEnergy Park for the Lakewood BlueClaws. Sanchez has spent his entire first season in full-season Minor League baseball pitching for Lakewood and his performance has matched his stuff.

Armed, according to Baseball America’s latest report, with a fastball that sits in the 97-to-102 miles-per-hour range, a slider in the mid-80’s and a changeup at 93-to-94, Sanchez has posted a 2.64 earned-run average with 59 strikeouts and just nine walks in 61 1/3 innings this season. He has also allowed only 44 hits and allowed just one home run while simultaneously keeping the ball on the ground (50 percent ground ball percentage) when it is put in play. The Major League average in 2017 is a 44.3 percent ground ball rate.

Given Sanchez’s velocity, secondary pitches and age, he stands out among baseball’s top prospects. Baseball America ranked him No. 47 in its midseason Top 100 prospects list, while MLB.com tabbed him as the No. 52 prospect in the game. Those are conservative rankings given the reaction of several scouts quoted in a Philly.com piece by Matt Gelb following Sanchez’s last home start. Among the comparisons the scouts threw out for consideration were Hall-of-Famer Pedro Martinez and the late Jose Fernandez.

The Pedro comparison makes some degree of sense given Sanchez’s modest stature. Although not listed below six feet tall like Martinez is, Sanchez is listed at an even six feet and 185 pounds. He is sure to add some muscle on his journey toward Citizen’s Bank Park, but whatever weight he adds won’t make him a prototypical power pitching prospect that casts a literal shadow on the runway to home plate. Then again, with velocities being what they are in today’s game and Sanchez poised to add to the list of successful diminutive pitchers, maybe the prototype is becoming as dated as a 90-mile-per-hour fastball.

Slump Hasn’t Soured Scouts on Phil’s Top Pick

Sanchez has taken the South Atlantic League by storm as an 18-year-old whiz kid, but he is not even the highest-ranked teenager on his own team, according to the two midseason rankings. Nineteen-year-old center fielder Mickey Moniak was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 First-Year Player Draft and got off to a solid start at the plate before a month-and-a-half swoon curtailed his current 2017 statistical profile. His slash line to date sits at a modest .264/.318/.380 with four home runs in 345 at-bats, but he sported a .283/.335/.424 line on June 1.

Moniak’s best assets coming out of high school as the No. 1 overall selection were his contact skills and speed. He is striking out more than his more ardent believers might have projected (21 percent) and he is just 9-for-15 on stolen base attempts, but both Baseball America and MLB.com ranked him among their top 50 midseason prospects based on the fact that the tools are still showing up in live action. MLB.com is more bullish, ranking Moniak No. 33 on its list. Baseball America ranked Moniak right ahead of his Lakewood teammate, Sanchez, at No. 46.

Given Moniak’s recent struggles and Sanchez’s age and workload restrictions, there is a good chance both play the year out in Lakewood.

Groome on the Mend

About 15 months ago, neither Moniak nor Sanchez generated as much buzz as Jay Groome, the uber-hyped left-handed hurler from Barnegat who attracted hoards of Major League Scouts and some front office personnel to all of his high school starts in 2017.

Like Moniak, Groome has encountered his share of growing pains while adjusting to the pro game, with Groome going No. 12 overall to the Boston Red Sox in 2016. In his first start of the season for Class-A Greenville, Groome lasted just 1 1/3 innings and left the game due to a sore lat muscle that kept him out of live game action until June 19.

Since his return, Groome has experienced mixed results. His four starts for the short-season Lowell Spinners were all-in-all successful and he has alternated good and bad outings since returning to the Greenville Drive on July 4. He threw five, one-hit, shutout innings on July 4, striking out seven and walking one. On July 16, he again struck out seven and walked one in five innings, this time allowing two runs on seven hits.

His other two starts included a combined eight earned runs over five innings with six walks, so like most prospects, Groome is seeking consistency more than stuff. Groome told Boston media he felt discomfort before his first start of the season in April and if he were granted a mulligan for that start, his numbers for the season look more respectable. In 15 innings with Greenville, Groome’s ERA stands at an even 6.00 while he has struck out 20, walked eight and surrendered 17 hits. His numbers with Lowell, meanwhile, were more in line with expectations as Groome allowed two earned runs on five hits and five walks in 11 innings while striking out 14.

In addition to the usual ups and downs of adjusting to life as a professional baseball player, Groome has had to deal with difficult circumstances away from the field. Groome’s father, Jason Sr., was arrested on July 10 in a Southern-Ocean-County drug bust, which was the same day as Groome’s second start back with Greenville. During last year’s media frenzy, Groome regularly mentioned his father as one of his primary baseball influences.

Groome is No. 48 on MLB.com’s midseason list of top prospects and No. 87 according to Baseball America.

“In Todd We Trust”

Speaking of mixed results, how about Todd Frazier’s first couple of home games as a member of the Yankees? In his at-bat in his first game at Yankee Stadium as a Yankee this past Tuesday, Frazier grounded into a bases-loaded, 6-3-5-6 triple play. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the first time a run scored on a triple play since 2006, when the Mariners scored on a triple play turned by the Twins.

Frazier later picked up his first Yankee Stadium hit on a line-drive single to left and on Wednesday, unloaded for his first home run at home as a Yankee. The solo shot to left field capped the Yankees’ five-run seventh inning to give them a 9-2 lead en route to a 9-5 win over the Cincinnati Reds, Frazier’s first Big League club.

For those wondering how the unmistakable John Sterling called Frazier’s first home run in pinstripes, the video has you covered. On a scale of 1-to-10, one being “Jacoby Ells-bury’s it” for Ellsbury and 10 being “Sir Lancelot: C’est Lui! C’est Lui!” for Lance Berkman, this is probably a three, maybe a four if we’re cutting Sterling a break for giving the better call to Clint Frazier before Todd showed up in the Yankee clubhouse.

According to the YES Network broadcast, some 600 friends and family ventured to Yankee Stadium – many from Toms River, no doubt – just to see Frazier make his Yankees debut on Tuesday. It’s safe to say that, at least for the next three months, Toms River is Yankee Country (Sorry, Shore Sports Man and the rest of the Mets crowd).

On Wednesday, current Rutgers baseball coach Joe Litterio met with the school’s two current Major Leaguers on the field. Frazier is the most notable former Scarlet Knight in the Big Leagues and Reds utility man Pat Kivlehan is the other. Litterio was the associate head coach under longtime Rutgers skipper Fred Hill when Kivlehan was a senior in 2012 and was the head coach of Wagner while Frazier was at Rutgers. Litterio also played at Rutgers.

“O” no more?

While Todd Frazier has already moved closer to home via a midseason trade, another Shore product has been in a number of trade rumors that could take him farther away from N.J. Freehold Township and Monmouth University alumnus Brad Brach is in the midst of his fourth strong season out of the Orioles bullpen and with Baltimore on the fringe of the American League Wild Card race at 48-53 through play Wednesday, owner Peter Angelos has given general manager Dan Duquette the green light to trade short-term assets for future ones, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Brach falls under the category of “short-term asset” because he is set to be a free agent following the 2018 season. The Milwaukee Brewers, the Colorado Rockies, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Minnesota Twins are the teams most strongly connected to relievers, but even the World Series front-runners, the Dodgers and Astros, have been rumored to be exploring the reliever market.

If the Orioles want to try to make a run again in 2018, they might be more likely to keep Brach on board given his success over the past two years, in particular. He served as closer while Zach Britton was on the disabled list and is currently averaging 95.1 miles-per-hour on his fastball, according to Fangraphs.com – the best season-long fastball velocity of his career. Given Baltimore’s recent troubles in finding quality starting pitching, as well as Brach’s effective three-pitch mix, a move to the rotation in 2018 might not be such a crazy notion either.

Should Brach be moved either out of the bullpen or out of the organization, a spot could open up for Christian Brothers Academy alum Jimmy Yacabonis. The right-hander got a taste of the Majors this season with Baltimore and currently has a 1.16 ERA in 46 2/3 innings at Triple-A Norfolk.

Life on the Road

Speaking of CBA pitchers and former Monmouth right-handers, former Colts standout Pat Light experienced the 2017 version of “riding the bus” from park to park. Light – now pitching in the Mariners system – was travelling with three teammates and their flight from Phoenix to Albuquerque was cancelled. Forced to adlib, Light and Tacoma teammates Mark Lowe, D.J. Peterson and Dan Vogelbach shared an Uber ride from Phoenix to Albuquerque, which amounted to a seven-hour drive at a cost of $683.52.

It’s unclear whether the Uber driver went back to Phoenix or just decided he lives in Albuquerque now.

 

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