When the Marlins were taking calls on J.T. Realmuto this offseason, their goal was to acquire impactful young players. At the Major League level, we have seen plenty of Catcher Jorge Alfaro; his power at the plate and leadership behind it. LHP Will Stewart has had mixed results in High-A. But the name that filled the headlines on February 7th was Sixto Sanchez.
Sixto missed a significant amount of time with right elbow inflammation during the 2018 season, and he had some collarbone discomfort when he was preparing to throw in the Arizona Fall League. Perhaps this served motivation when the Phillies traded the 6-foot-tall flame throwing righty. It also made the Marlins take a conservative route on his throwing program.
Sixto did not make his first start until May 3rd in High-A with the Jupiter Hammerheads. He was promoted after two starts there but had some pretty crowded lines in his first 5 starts between High-A and Double-A. He had a 4.05 ERA with a .303 batting average against in 26 2/3 innings. When asked about how it is to pitch after so much time off, Sixto said “It’s a bit difficult, so much time like that without throwing. Sometimes you lose the zone, but I’ve been working day to day and have been able to get over that.”
The work is paying off. In his last five starts, Sixto has a 2.76 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings. I was fortunate enough to see his last start in person on Saturday versus the Twins double-A affiliate, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He only gave up 2 runs with 9 strikeouts in 7 innings of pure dominance. Sixto “felt great… [he] was concentrated inning after inning.” Maxing out at 99.9 mph, he was dotting the zone early, but, most impressively, not just with the fastball. The slider and changeup were thrown for strikes consistently, too. The second time around the order, the Blue Wahoos batters started to swing early in the count on the fastball. They scored two runs in the 4th inning on mostly weak contact, but Sixto made the adjustment. “I started with my fastball and they said, ‘I’m going to jump on the fastball,’ and I came and changed my approach. ‘I’ll go with the changeup now, with the slider’ and I was able to complete my objective.”
After the 4th inning, only two base runners reached base against Sixto. In the 7th inning, Blue Wahoos shortstop, Joe Cronin, hit a one-out triple. Sixto then gave up a deep fly out which appeared good enough to score the game tying run. Stone Garrett unleashed an impressively hard and accurate throw home which Santiago Chavez was able to hold onto, preserving the 1-run lead and ending the inning.
While the 3.38 ERA on the year doesn’t scream dominance, what Sixto was throwing on Saturday was just something else. He easily has the best combination of stuff and control this organization has seen since the late great José Fernandez. The slider and changeup (which is his favorite pitch) were sharp and deployed in and out of the zone to draw swings and misses and called strikes.
Sixto said about his ability to pound the zone with his off-speed pitches “I work on it every day, but for me, it’s not difficult.” The fastball was constantly in the zone, and he made emphasis of using his high-90s tailing fastball inside . “The only thing I’m working on right now is throwing my fastball inside. Before, I was scared to throw inside.” That tactic is working, keeping opposing batters uncomfortable as they have to fend off inside heat and then defend against sharp off-speed pitches that are thrown for strikes. My favorite note of the night, 70 strikes on 87 pitches and only 2 three-ball counts in 7 innings of work.
Despite being one of the most talented starters in Minor League Baseball, Sixto was not highly touted when he signed with the Phillies in 2015 out of the Dominican Republic for $35,000. “I was trying out as an infielder and there was a catcher also trying out. There weren’t any pitchers and I said, ‘Look, I can pitch,” and from there I was able to sign with the Phillies.” A bit of luck and a perceptive Phillies scout, Luis Garcia, opened the door for what could be one of the biggest steals in international free agency history.
In the time since, he’s developed a fastball that tops out at 102mph and proved himself not only as a flamethrower, but a strike-thrower — something the Marlins were really happy to acquire in return for J.T. Realmuto. Sixto didn’t see a trade coming until, basically, the day it happened. “I wasn’t prepared for it, I was sleeping and that morning they were telling me ‘they’re going to trade you, they’re going to trade you…’ Then when I was called by the Phillies. They told me ‘look we traded you to the Marlins.’ And I said ‘wow, seriously?’ and all I can do is keep working.”
Now, 10 starts through his Marlins career, Sixto has one goal. “Play in the big leagues… this year.” With the stuff he showed Saturday night, I saw a pitcher who could not only survive in the major leagues, but a pitcher who can thrive. It’s not crazy to believe that Sixto Sanchez is the next Marlins ace.