BRADENTON, Fla. – It was August 7, 2015 in Norfolk when Angel Sanchez threw a pitch that was followed by his fingers becoming stiff and a warm sensation overtaking his arm. That fourth inning pitch to Elias Diaz would be the last in a game for Sanchez until Wednesday afternoon, when he threw in a competitive game for the first time since having Tommy John surgery in the fall of 2015.

I was able to talk with Sanchez before his outing, and he was ecstatic to be able to get back on the mound.

“I am super excited to get back on the mound,” Sanchez said on Tuesday morning at LECOM Park. “It was really tough to have a year and a half just watching baseball and not being able to do anything — the things that you love to do. As soon as the rehab was over, I was just ready to get back and pitch on the mound. I am just so excited to get in a game.”

For those who don’t remember his story, Sanchez was claimed by the Pirates in 2014 from the White Sox after bouncing around with three other teams who claimed him off waivers before the Pirates. They snuck him through the waiver process during the off-season and gave him a spot in the starting rotation for the Altoona Curve in 2015. Before landing with the Pirates, he was a top ten prospect with the Dodgers entering the 2013 season, and ranked as the number 16 prospect for the Marlins going into 2014 (going over to Miami in a trade).

Before the injury in 2015, Sanchez was on a trajectory straight towards the majors, as he was having a great season in Double-A and Triple-A. He put up a 2.79 ERA in 77.1 IP in Altoona, including a 49:19 K/BB ratio. Those numbers honestly don’t even reflect how dominant he was pitching in the league before his promotion, as his stuff looked fantastic, and he was going deep into games consistently.

The emergence of an effective cutter was the separator for Sanchez, earning him a promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis mid-season 2015. He put up a 2.55 ERA and 50:15 K/BB ratio in 60 innings for the Indians, putting him in line for strong consideration of joining the Pirates as insurance in September. That time, of course, never came, as he tore his UCL during that August 7th start.

“I threw a bullpen [after two weeks of rest and rehab],” Sanchez said, “and I couldn’t really throw any of my pitches. That’s when I knew what was going on.”

The news that he’d need surgery was devastating to hear, mostly because all of the hard work he had put in was translating to success on the field.

“I was definitely a little off when I heard that I needed surgery on my arm,” Sanchez said. “I was starting to do my best. I was controlling the things that I could control, and I was doing much better as a pitcher.”

Now, all of that is behind him, as Pirates Head Athletic Trainer Todd Tomczyk explained that Sanchez’s recovery was nothing short of tremendous due to the work that the young man put in during rehab.

“It’s very exciting for him and for us,” Tomczyk said. “The amount of work that this man has put in up to this point is unexplainable.”

Both Sanchez and Tomczyk credited Minor League Rehab Coordinator A.J. Patrick for the time and effort put in working with Sanchez during the rehab process.

“I was in contact with A.J. the whole time,” Sanchez said.

He began throwing fastballs last year, and his arm felt fine during that time. The hardest part of the recovery was when he added in breaking balls after Christmas while working out in Phoenix. He dealt with some arm soreness due to the strain on his arm from throwing the breaking pitches, but that soon wore off once the new year rolled around. The Pirates had him mostly throwing fastballs and changeups when he first arrive in Bradenton in January, then he slowly progressed to throwing all of his pitches in bullpen sessions. Once everyone arrived for Spring Training, everything was a go.

Angel Sanchez and Steven Brault wait to participate in fielding drills at LECOM Park.

“The first days were really tough, getting back on track,” Sanchez said. “My body feels like I wasn’t all the way back in. I was working a lot and doing a ton of stuff with the everyday schedule, but now my body is getting used to it.”

All the hard work paid off, as Sanchez has added 19 pounds of all pure, lean muscle mass to his frame, and he said that his arm actually feels stronger than it ever has. Tomcyzk said that he is in extraordinary shape in both a cardiovascular and physical sense.

It all came into play on Wednesday afternoon when he had the opportunity to pitch against the Dominican Republic WBC team, something that had a little extra special meaning to him.

“I’m pretty excited to get out there for the first game after a year and a half off,” Sanchez said. “Today, I have the honor to pitch against my home country. It is special. They are an elite team. I’m excited to get back to competing and doing my best again.”

Sanchez threw two-thirds of an inning, induced two ground balls, and walked two batters. He said that he was a little amped up because of the situation, so his breaking ball control wasn’t exactly where it needed to be, but altogether, he was very happy with him performance. More impressively, his four-seam fastball had some good velocity, sitting in the mid-90s.

“I’ve been out for a long time, and I’ve been working so much. I have no words to really explain it right now, but I feel super happy to get back on the mound.”

The addition of Sanchez is an underrated important one for the Pirates, as he adds more depth to their Triple-A pitching staff. The plan, for now is to have him throw out of the bullpen; however, the option to stretch him out is still there. They simply want to monitor his quality pitch count during the step in the process of coming back from Tommy John surgery. If Sanchez can get back to the way he was throwing in 2015 pre-injury, he could easily find his way onto the Major League club.

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38 COMMENTS

    • Yeah. I feel really strange in its personal space.
      I feel like it is a plug for some Animal Planet show featuring lemurs.

      Ick.

      With regard to Osuna… funny how a thread gets hijacked… I’ve been rooting for him since I saw him have a really good day in left field in Toon Town. I do realize that the Pirates have a million good outfielders… well… 4 or 5 right?… But I am and have always been a big Osuna fan. I was sitting at a bar in Clearfield the other day when he went deep and it just made me smile.

      Best to all.

      I get to drive the Osuna bandwagon.
      ———————————————-
      “Okay, Lil’ Friend. See this game is called draw poker and whoever has the biggest hand wins… Ya see… they win…”
      (Bugs blows up his glove to enormous size.)
      “Do I win?”
      “CUT IT OUT CAN’T’CHA????”

      -Wabbit

  1. A little off-topic, but wasn’t there some running joke on this page about Jose Osuna being a “forgotten man” or something…he’s certainly making his name known this spring…batting .500 with four home runs.

    • love that he is killing it this Spring. Wish there was really a spot for him to compete for on the bench.

      • I “picked” him to follow when they signed him because I figured I could keep track of his name. If I remember, Tim said that year there was a lot of projectable guys – who all was signed that year, Tim?

    • Yeah, there was subscribers who quit because Osuna wasn’t ranked higher in the prospect guide.

    • You take Spring Training stats with a grain of salt. But what it does is it gives a good impression to Clint Hurdle. And that may help him get a call up during the season. The key is don’t get discouraged in AAA. Keep playing hard and stay focused.

    • Yes, it got out of hand when someone said we never mention him in the middle of winter when he was mentioned everyday because he dominated the Venezuelan League. He should be well known to anyone who has read this site over the years because he’s been mentioned in almost 1,000 articles (seriously), and he’s made our top 50 in every prospect guide, including this year’s which is on sale now (shameless plug)

  2. Honestly, I see him more as AAA depth than anything else. There’s a reason that we ‘snuck’ him thru waivers?

    But, I hope that his hard work does pay off in a MLB pitching spot, if not for us, for some other team.

    • He got through waivers because he posted a 5.96 ERA in Double-A that season. That was before his breakout 2015 season, where he put up a 2.69 ERA in 23 starts, spending half of the season in Indy, where his stats improved. At that point, he was probably going to be added to the 40-man roster again, possibly seeing MLB time in September.

      He is depth at this point, but if we only talked about prospects who were sure things for legit MLB success, you would hear about the same 4-5 players all of the time.

    • If you didn’t see him pitch in 2015 after seeing him after they acquired him you might consider not passing judgement till he proves or disproves himself. Before he moved to AAA he was a much more dominant pitcher than Brault, Williams, Kingham, Cumpton or Kuhl were in Altoona.

      • The 26 year old in AA was more dominant than kids three years his junior?

        You don’t say.

        I’d also love to know how that eye test backs up a 5.7 K/9, 3.49 FIP performance as “dominant”.

        • I know that you have all the answers, you are NMR the genius…..depending on which way your mood sends you at the time. No sense in even discussing it with you except to say I wasn’t out to prove how much ceiling any of those pitchers had, just to mention if you never saw a guy pitch much, predicting his future is pretty stupid.

  3. What is this garbage about LECOM park? Is that actually what they expect us to call McKechnie Field??????

    • And how much money did the Pirates get for putting that terrible name and somebody else’s brand on their park? It can’t be worth it.

      • It’s Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine’s branch campus in Bradenton. Say what you will but how many ballparks, or for that matter any sports venue, don’t have a sponsorship? The ballpark just got a $20 million dollar renovation, and for all the complaining about payroll on this site you’d think people would be accepting of a sponsorship to offset some of that cost. No one is putting their brand on the park. It’s a Pennsylvania medical institution that support the Pirates and the Bradenton area.

      • Tradition has value, especially in baseball. Corporate names for spring training parks that have been around for like 70 years is insane. I guess scott would be okay with Wrigley and Fenway being renamed too.

    • Unless you happen to be a member of the McKechnie family, this issue is as close to meaningless as it gets.

        • Really, please tell me how your enjoyment of rooting for the Pirates has been negatively impacted by this issue.

          • Why is that the only thing that matters? I’ve gone to mckechnie every year for 13 years, its not like some dude in pittsburgh that has never been there. I have a right to voice my opinion about it. Tradition is what baseball is all about- when they rename PNC park when their leasing rights are over, i’ll be just as irritated.

      • It’s funny because the naming rights issue amounts to nothing more than corporate dick-swinging from CEO’s swimming in profit.

        You won’t find one study that shows the additional customers banking with PNC after naming the stadium – or any other for that matter – even made back the naming investment.

        • Corporate dick-swinging? That’s a visual I didn’t need.

          If one doesn’t like this form of “corporate dick-swinging,” than may I suggest contacting your Congressman and Senators and ask them to support the Fair Tax. Once corporations lose out on the tax benefits associated with this endeavor, than we can go back to the good old days when stadiums were named after geographical terms like Three Rivers.

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