He came into spring training under the radar but by the time he left, he was on everybody’s watch list.
There was a buzz about Aaron Sanchez, the 21-year-old with the tall, lanky, athletic frame on the mound and the gun for an arm that can consistently power a 95-mile-per-hour fastball.
The potential is there. It was on display before 10,808 at Coca-Cola Field on Friday night as Sanchez made his home debut and second Triple-A start for the Buffalo Bisons.
He left the game behind, 3-0, but the Herd rallied for a 5-3 win over the Rochester Red Wings to get Sanchez off the hook.
It wasn’t a sparkling performance, but it was solid. He threw five innings, 83 pitches with 43 for strikes. Two of the three runs were earned while he gave up four hits, including a two-run home run, while his four strikeouts were offset by four walks.
“I thought he was solid,” said Toronto General Manager Alex Anthopoulos, who was in Buffalo to watch Sanchez. “Obviously command. He still needs to work on that.
“He induced eight ground balls, one fly ball out and that’s going to get him out of trouble when he does walk guys.”
It’s experience that Sanchez, who turns 22 on July 1, needs. He turned plenty of heads in spring training where he did not allow a run in 15 and 1/3 innings in Blue Jays camp, but he started the season in Double-A New Hampshire.
“Me being a young guy, and everybody goes through it, you want to get to where you want to be as fast as you can,” Sanchez said. “That’s just the nature of the game. I think once you step back and kind of enjoy the ride that you’re on ... I think for me it was ideal. Yeah, I want to be there. Yeah, I want to help this team win up there but my time is coming.”
His time with the Blue Jays isn’t necessarily coming any time soon.
“Right now, he’s not in the conversation,” Anthopoulos said. “Let’s see how he does and hopefully he continues to improve each time out.
“Overall it’s poise, experience, the innings. Really, when you look back he hasn’t pitched more than 110 innings in any one year. He still needs that development time. He still needs the innings.”
There were most certainly bumps, but Sanchez showed an ability to battle back. Take the two times he faced Chris Colabello, last year’s International League MVP. In the second inning, he gave up a one-out walk, then faced Colabello, who drove the second pitch he saw over the center-field wall.
In the fourth he again issued a walk and faced Colabello, but this time he went after him and got the slugger to strike out.
His most underrated pitch is his curveball, which looked better at times than his fastball, which at times suffered from poor command.
“Improving my fastball command. That’s what everything plays off of,” Sanchez said. But his curveball has “been the pitch that’s gotten me back into the strike zone when I needed it to. ... When you get to these kind of levels it’s about pitching. It’s not about overpowering because a lot of guys can turn on velocity.”
The Herd’s rally was orchestrated by Jonathan Diaz, who belted a three-run homer in the seventh to tie the game.
Diaz and Darin Mastroianni drew back-to-back bases-loaded walks in the eighth to give the Herd the 5-3 lead.