NATIONAL HARBOR, MD. – At the winter meetings, executives spend hour after hour looking outside of their own organizations at potential trade and free agent targets. In doing so, it can be easy to overlook potential improvements from within.
When Ross Atkins looks at the Blue Jays’ roster, he sees plenty of players with upside, including Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis, Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales. Featured prominently in that group, even after winning the AL ERA title: Aaron Sanchez.
“Even though it seems like his leap was a large one, his trajectory last year, I think the slope is continuing,” Atkins said Wednesday. “The way that he’s working this off-season, what he’s doing on a daily basis, is impressive.”
The 24-year-old has been putting that work in at the Blue Jays’ Dunedin complex, alongside a number of teammates including Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Ryan Goins, J.A. Happ and pitching prospect Conner Greene.
Sanchez arrived in spring training having added 25 pounds of muscle, and that additional strength helped him stay strong over the course of a season that saw him pitch 192 regular season innings with a 3.00 ERA then add 11.2 more innings in the playoffs. All told, a season that began without a guaranteed rotation spot ended with a seventh place finish in Cy Young voting.
“The strides that Aaron has made in the course of a year and a half, really since the time that we got here, they’ve just continued,” Atkins said.
Sanchez has been working alongside the Blue Jays’ high performance team to build lower body strength. Already he has improved his vertical jump, his range of motion and his power.
“He’s tapping into all those resources, but it’s Aaron Sanchez,” Atkins said. “He is driven, and doing things that are exceptional … those people are smart and great resources but all of the credit goes to Aaron Sanchez.”
With files from Mike Wilner