Blue Jays Notebook: Sanchez eyes ‘next level’

January 17, 2014, 4:46 PM

Throughout the off-season, I’ll provide commentary and links related to the Toronto Blue Jays and MLB every weekend.

As a first round draft pick who was recently named the top prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league system, Aaron Sanchez has gained far more recognition than most of the players who spent the 2013 season in the Class A Florida State League. Yet as the 21-year-old looks ahead to his next minor-league stop, he’s not going to challenge the Blue Jays’ patient player development plan.

“It’s something that they’ve done with all of their young guys,” Sanchez recently said at the Blue Jays’ rookie camp in Toronto. “You’ve seen the talent that we have in this organization. With the young guys that we have and all of the arms who’ve gotten hurt in the past, they take a little more precautions with us young guys.”

Those precautions were necessary for Sanchez, who was just 17 when the Blue Jays drafted him 34th overall in 2010. Four seasons later, Baseball America ranked the 6’4″ right-hander tops among all Blue Jays prospects, crediting him with the best fastball and curveball in the team’s minor-league system. Even so, he battled a shoulder injury in 2013 and logged just 86.1 innings at Class A. Next up could be a chance to pitch in the upper minors.

“Every organization’s different,” he said. “You can’t control that stuff and that’s what I’m not going to control. What I can control is going out there and doing my job and that’s going out there and getting better as a baseball player, working on the things that I need to work on to get to the next level.”

Sanchez is looking forward to the next challenge — potentially double-A New Hampshire – after spending his first four professional seasons in the lower levels of the minor leagues. He’s not yet sure if he’ll be in big league camp this spring, but he realizes it’s mostly out of his control.

“I think it’s just going to the park every day, working on my game and just trying to get better every day,” he says.

The Blue Jays assigned Sanchez to the 2013 Arizona Fall League along with the organization’s second-ranked prospect, right-hander Marcus Stroman. Pitching against other top prospects in the AFL allowed Sanchez to build his modest 2013 innings total and show Blue Jays decision makers he’s ready for the next challenge.

“That was kind of a blessing for me,” Sanchez says. “Going out there, being with those talented players that were out there, that’s the best league that a lot of people talk about. For me to just go out there and keep doing what I’m doing and continue to log innings was a lot of fun for me.”

After pitching in the Arizona Fall League, he took a couple of weeks off before resuming workouts in anticipation of the 2014 season.

The California native now works on his fastball command every day with the goal of lowering his walk total. Though Sanchez posted a 3.34 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 20 starts for the Dunedin Blue Jays last year, he allowed 40 walks. That represented a career-best walk rate, but it remains a weakness relative to other starting pitchers. Whether he’s in New Hampshire or pitching for another minor-league team, Sanchez has something to improve upon as he works his way closer to Toronto.

“It’s just about attacking hitters. There’s nothing more to it. It’s baseball and it’s a fun game.”

ROGERS’ RAISE: Why did Esmil Rogers earn $1.85 million in arbitration when Brett Cecil obtained just $1.3 million for his all-star performance? Many fans asked that question in the aftermath of Friday’s arbitration decisions.

The answer comes down to role. While Cecil pitched out of the bullpen, Rogers made 20 starts, which enables him to compare himself to swingmen and starters instead of relievers. While starters do well in arbitration, non-closing relievers such as Cecil are underpaid relative to their peers. When it comes to arbitration, an excellent middle reliever doesn’t get nearly as much as a decent closer or number three starter.

As for Colby Rasmus, his raise of of $2.325 million puts him between Carlos Gomez, who obtained a raise of $2.338 million after 2012 and B.J. Upton, who obtained a raise of $2.175 million after 2011. The pair of centre fielders were presumably among the comparables used to decide Rasmus’ 2014 salary.

BENCH-BULLPEN BALANCE: In his Thursday appearance on Prime Time Sports, general manager Alex Anthopoulos repeated that the Blue Jays could enter the season with an eight-man bullpen. Carrying that many arms would allow the Blue Jays to keep out-of-options relievers including Todd Redmond, Dustin McGowan and Luis Perez, but it would limit the Blue Jays to a three-man bench.

Anthopoulos told Stephen Brunt and Bob McCown on Sportsnet 590 The FAN that there’s a good chance reliever Neil Wagner will have to be optioned to triple-A to start the year because of the roster crunch.

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