Last season, Jesus Sanchez overcame a lot of obstacles. Called up prematurely as a necessity due to the pandemic while battling some mental demons in 2020, the now 24-year-old went on to become one of the most talked-about prospects in the Miami Marlins’ system. After an impressive spring training, Sanchez, who admittedly had to learn how to have fun on the field again while improving physically, got off to a flying start with the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp. With a .348/.407/.653 slash line, Sanchez quickly became the best hitter in the Marlins’ organization and one of the top hitters on the minor league circuit as a whole to earn his full opportunity at the big league level.
Sanchez went through some more battles in 2021 including one with COVID-19 that cost him a month, things went pretty swimmingly for the remodeled top five organizational prospect. In 64 games, Sanchez played to his strengths, hitting for a .250+ batting average with 24 extra base (14 homers) and a .489 slugging percentage. His ability to impact the baseball while maintaining a decent average and playing plus outfield defense allotted him a 1.3 WAR. Sanchez made up for lost time in the offseason by taking part in the Dominican Winter League where he hit .324/.429/.465 and came into spring training this year primed to put his full potential on display full time as an every day starter.
The first impression from Sanchez in 2022 was very positive as he hit .340/.386/.623 in his first two weeks of play. But since then, things have quickly spiraled downward. From April 24th through the present, Sanchez has been an .095 hitter. He is 6 for 63 with one extra base hit, a double, and a 23/5 K/BB. So what happened? Why have things gone so wrong so fast for Sanchez and how should the Marlins address it?
A power hitter who works best when he’s able to get his arms extended on hard pitches over the plate, opposing pitchers have taken the bat out of Sanchez’s hands by busting him up and in on his fists and commanding just off the low/outer half.
Sanchez has always struggled with plus breaking stuff and so far this season, he’s faced a much healthier diet of them. After seeing fastballs and pitcher’s highest velos 57% of the time last year, that figure is down to 53% in 2022. Against breaking pitches, Sanchez is hitting just .108 with a 40% whiff rate. Due to this plan of attack, opposing pitchers record first pitch strikes against him 66% of the time (40% swinging).
All of this has led to Sanchez seeing far less pitches inside the strike zone — 34% vs 41% in 2021 — and an overall limited exit velocity under 89 mph. Sanchez’s expected slugging percentage is down to .388.
Further compounding Sanchez’s struggles is the fact that his setup, swing and follow through are mechanically altered. Even when he’s gotten pitches in locations he has been able to handle well in the past, the good part of Sanchez’s bat has eluded the baseball. After exhibiting a higher front foot timing trigger, Sanchez’s lower half has been susceptible to leaking and collapsing on follow through. His head is also up off of the ball to his pull side, disallowing him to stay through it. As a result, he is sporting a hard hit rate of just 24%.
Even though his defense in center field has been more than the Marlins could have asked for, if Sanchez does not show improvement for another week or two at the most, it will be hard to defend including him in the every day lineup and could spur a demotion to either the bench, AAA or both. In the event of a Sanchez demotion, Bryan De La Cruz, who is 13-39 (.333) with a much lower and more sustainable BABIP than last year, could slot in as the starter until either Sanchez rebounds, one of JJ Bleday or Peyton Burdick is deemed ready and able to hold down the job or until a move to someone outside of the organization is made.
Major League Baseball has adjusted to Jesus Sanchez and now it is his turn to adjust back. Hope is that Sanchez can get that done at the big league level and avoid a trip to AAA but that may be easier said than done.