Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Other Sanchez

While reading Part 3 of Dejan Kovacevic's PPG series on Pittsburgh Latin America scouting director Rene Gayo and the Pirates of the Caribbean, GW noticed that both Gayo and the Bucs still held hope for reliever Romulo Sanchez. We thought we'd take a closer look at him and what he's done with a baseball.

Sanchez is a giant of a RHP, going 6'5" and 260 pounds with a fastball to match his size. The 24-year old was born in Carora, Venezuela, and was originally signed on March 8, 2002 as a 17-year old by Dodger scouts Camilio Pascual, who was a heckuva hurler back in the day, and Doug Carpenter.

He played in the Dominican Summer League from 2002-03 for the Blue, the first season as a reliever and then strictly as a starter the next. Sanchez's results were quite pedestrian in both roles, and he was released by the Dodgers on March 12, 2004.

Sanchez was picked up by the Pirates on May 7, 2004, touted by Dave Littlefield as a hot Latino prospect. He pitched briefly in the VSL in 2004 for Pittsburgh, and caught the Pirate's eye when he tossed a nine-inning, 12-strikeout no-hitter in August. They brought him stateside.

Sanchez was bounced all over the Pirate system in 2005, making stops in Bradenton, Hickory, and Altoona. He still started, and his ERA wasn't very pretty once he left the GCL, but Romulo did OK for his first swing through organized ball.

In 2006, Sanchez was on the rosters of Hickory, Lynchburg, and Altoona. The Pirates began his conversion to the bullpen after three very forgettable starts to begin the year. He went 0-3-5 combined, and his K to BB ratio was terrible, striking out 39 and walking 30 in 58-1/3 innings of work.

Sanchez began the 2007 season with Altoona and had his breakout year. He went 6-3-1 with a 2.81 ERA in 40 relief outings for the Curve. He struck out 52 in 57-2/3 frames while walking only 17 batters and held opposing hitters to a .204 batting average.

The only red flag was that Sanchez was most effective as a middle man, and wasn't so hot when used as a closer. In fact, he only finished the deal once in five save opportunities.

But when Solly Torres went on the DL on August 25, 2007, Sanchez was called up and went 1-0 with 5.00 ERA with 11 Ks and 3 BBs in 18 innings for the Bucs in his maiden campaign.

Scouting Book.com said before last season that "Sanchez is one of many Pirate flamethrowers who may factor into their bullpen in 2008. While he enjoyed only modest success during his brief stint last season, he's a favorite within the organization, who see him as a future closer despite his average strikeout numbers.

If he can refine his control a little while not losing too much of his velocity, he might be a viable setup man in the near future, but to become a serious force, he'll need to develop secondary pitches."

Some saw him as having an outside shot at landing a spot on the roster in the spring, but the Bucs sent him to Indy with the early cuts in March.

Sanchez was 5-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 30 appearances for the Tribe. In 51 1/3 innings, he allowed 45 hits, 16 walks and fanned 29. The strikeout numbers were worrisome, but he was effective and his control was OK. He began to yo-yo between the bigs and AAA.

First, he was called up on June 29th to take Ty Taubenheim's spot, and on July 13th was sent back down. Then on August 5th, the Pirates recalled him again, this time to take Yoslan Herrera's place. Sanchez was gone again on August 22nd, and brought back with the September call-up posse.

During most of that time, John Russell left him parked for long stretches. Sanchez only got the call 10 times, and in 13-1/3 innings, he walked six and only struck out three. It looked as if he was trying to take something of his mid-to-upper 90s heater to get it over the plate, which of course only made things worse in Russell's mind - and Sanchez's results.

He ended up with one save - and that was in his first appearance on July 1st - with an ERA of 4.05. Sanchez comes into 2009 at a career crossroad.

It's likely that he'll start next season at Indy, and he is still on the 40-man roster. But Sanchez will have to learn to believe in the pitch that brought him to the dance, his fastball, and keep working on his off pitch, a sometimes flat curve.

His strikeout ratio means that he'll be looked at as a middle man, and there's a lot of competition for those jobs in the Buc bullpen. If he can trust his heater, maybe he'll get the trust of his manager. 2009 could make or break Romulo Sanchez as a prospect in the Pittsburgh organization.

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