BRADENTON, Fla. – The Pirates have several hard throwing options for their bullpen in the upper levels, and plenty of starting rotation depth out of Indianapolis. They might be adding another name to one of those groups, although the specific group is unclear. Angel Sanchez is returning this year from Tommy John surgery, and was sitting 96-97 MPH this week in two innings of work at Pirate City. This wasn’t the first time he showed that velocity this spring, although every other outing saw him posting that velocity in a single inning of work.
Sanchez was a starting pitcher prior to going down with surgery, and looked like he was on the verge of making the majors as a depth option in 2015. His velocity was getting up there to the 95 MPH range, and he featured four other pitches, highlighted by a cutter that was leading to a good amount of strikeouts. He had Tommy John right around the time the Pirates needed an extra starter in the majors, with the MLB team eventually trading for J.A. Happ to fill their need.
Now Sanchez is back, working as a reliever in his return to the mound. He will start the year with Indianapolis, joining Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas as another hard thrower out of the bullpen.
“I feel strong,” Sanchez said about his return. “My thing is the rhythm and finding the release point with the mechanics. I’m just trying to release the ball on time. My arm feels great, feels strong. All of the work I’ve been doing at Pirate City [during rehab] has helped me out.”
Sanchez noted that he has been hitting 97 MPH more consistently this year, after hitting 94-96 before the injury. He has gotten the fastball up to 98 this year. In the bullpen he can pair the fastball with his cutter, which is his best off-speed option, a strikeout pitch, and also a pitch that can generate ground balls. But Sanchez might have a chance to be more than just a power reliever.
Prior to the injury, Sanchez threw five pitches, also featuring a curveball, slider, and a changeup. He dropped the slider, and now throws a curveball and changeup to pair with his fastball/cutter combo. The changeup is still a weapon for him against lefties, while the curveball is another pitch he can turn to for outs. He also didn’t show command issues and had good control prior to the injury, and has returned with that same control and command he had before.
The Pirates have no shortage of starting pitching options, so the most likely role for Sanchez in the majors in Pittsburgh would be a hard throwing reliever. But it’s hard to ignore a guy who is hitting 97 MPH consistently while throwing three other pitches and showing control and command. That’s the type of arm you get back into the rotation and see what you have. Unfortunately, the Indianapolis rotation is pretty packed, which means Sanchez might have to wait until a spot opens in order to show what he can do as a starter. Either way, Sanchez adds to an already strong group of depth options in Triple-A.
DSL Players Making the Jump to the US
By John Dreker
The Pirates usually invite 10-12 players from the DSL to the Fall Instructional League each September. Those same players usually return the following spring, but sometimes there are differences in that group. This year, three players from the 2016 DSL team have been invited to Extended Spring Training, despite not getting an FIL invite. Those players are Eumir Sepulveda, Jose Delgado, and Adonis Pichardo.
Right-handed pitcher Sepulveda is a special case, and if you followed the winter ball coverage this year, you saw his name mentioned a few times. Players from Mexico sign with summer and winter league teams before they sign with pro teams. Instead of getting released when a team no longer needs them, they are “loaned” to their summer team, which almost always means they aren’t coming back. Sepulveda planned to play with his team in Mexico this year, which basically forced the Pirates to bring him to Bradenton. He had a very strong winter, which probably made the decision easier to keep him. He also has strong stuff, with a low-90s fastball and a nice curve/change combo, so it’s possible the 21-year-old turned a corner this winter. On a side note, the Pirates let pitcher Armando Bustamante join his summer team in Mexico, so he is no longer in the organization.
Also making the jump without an FIL invite are pitchers Jose Delgado and Adonis Pichardo. Delgado signed at 21, shortly before last season. He sits low-90s with his fastball, but has poor control and weak secondary pitches, which led to very poor results. The 20-year-old Pichardo was a six-figure signing in 2014, who improved greatly last year over a tough rookie season in which he sustained multiple minor injuries. He has hit 96 MPH in the past, and sits low-90s with his fastball. Both Pichardo and Delgado are listed at 6′ 3″, 195 pounds.
All ten FIL invites from last year’s DSL team will return to Bradenton when Extended Spring Training begins on April 4th.