Aaron Sanchez is the top pitching prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays system for a reason. That reason is power, as the 20-year-old right-hander features a mid-90s fastball and a sharp-breaking curveball. He also throws an improved changeup, which helped him dominate the Midwest League in his third professional season. The 2010 first-round-supplemental pick logged a 2.49 ERA while striking out 97, and allowing 64 hits, in 90 innings.
Sanchez discussed his game late in the 2012 season.
Sanchez, on how he’d define his game: “I’d describe myself as a power pitcher. I have a pretty firm fastball with a lot of late life, [including] running-and-sinking action. I have a pretty power curveball, which is kind of a big strikeout pitch for me. When I get ahead, I tend to break that out and I get a lot of Ks with it. Based on those things, I think you’d call me a power pitcher.
“I’m not afraid of contact. I’m not afraid of early contact or one-pitch outs, because that’s key for guys on pitch counts. The quicker you get outs, the longer you get to stay in the game. But when I’m ahead in the count and have the opportunity to strike someone out, that’s my mindset.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m pushing toward more contact. It’s more that I’m not afraid of it. I also wouldn’t say that I’m getting pushed into pitching to contact. There are times I rack up quite a few Ks.”
On maturing as a pitcher: “My fastball, in terms of late life and velocity, has become better since I signed. With my curveball, I think it’s gotten a little bit better in terms of velocity and sharpness. I could be a little more consistent with that pitch, but I think it has definitely gotten better from the time I signed until now.
“I think [the development] is part physical maturity and part learning. It’s knowing what you’re trying to do with your delivery and it’s growing up and getting your man strength. Developing and filling out go hand-in-hand with what you’re trying to do on the field.”
On his fastball: “My four-seam rises and my two-seam dives. I get a lot of movement on all of my pitches. This year I’m throwing my two-seam a little more on the inner part of the plate to right-handed hitters. I’m not being afraid to go after weak contact. It’s been a big thing for me, but not something where they’ve said, ‘Hey, throw a two-seam.’ I’ve always had that in my repertoire.
“There’s a little bit of velocity difference, but nothing drastic. It’s not a four- or five-mph difference, or anything like that. It’s more one or two. Most of the time this year, my fastball has been in the mid- to upper-90s, anywhere from 94-97.”
On his changeup: “I throw a standard four-seam circle changeup. I think it’s been the best pitch for me this year. Going into last off-season, I knew that I needed to develop that third pitch. I threw it and threw it and threw it, and I got confidence in throwing it. When I got to spring training, it was a matter of throwing it in games and not being afraid to give up hits with it. Or swings and misses. I got a lot of those.
“When I came into the season, instead of just sitting on 94-95, I was able to work front to back and keep hitters off balance by throwing my changeup. It’s a little firm, but there is six-, seven-, eight-mph difference in terms of fastball-to-changeup velocity. It’s been around 86-88. That change in velocity definitely messes up the hitter.
“The biggest thing with a changeup is confidence. You have to be confident to throw it when you want to throw it, and not be afraid to give up hits with it. That’s the biggest thing from my standpoint. You obviously need the right things to go with that, like the arm speed and stuff like that, but it’s the confidence in your ability to get swings and misses, and weak contact, when you throw the pitch.”
On becoming more consistent: “It’s nice to have a good arm, but when you get to this level, it’s about executing pitches every time out. The more you do that, the more successful you’re going to be. You’re going to go deeper into ballgames and the chances improve that you’re going to get a win. That’s what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to win, but we’re also trying to get developed.
“The name of the game — this is for everybody, not just me — is becoming more consistent. You’re not so far off from the big leagues once to get to full-season. Anything can happen, so it’s a matter of being able to go out there every night and execute pitches. That’s the biggest thing I want to go forward with, from this year and throughout my entire career.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.