Ask anyone around the Toronto Blue Jays organization and most would agree that Aaron Sanchez has a very bright future in Major League Baseball. The issue where they may not come to a consensus is whether that will be as a starter or a reliever.
Over the weekend, Ben Ennis spoke with Shi Davidi on Sportsnet Today, and Shi revealed that the organization may be divided when it comes to what Aaron Sanchez’ role may be this season with the Blue Jays.
“The opinion within the organization isn’t uniform on that one. There are some people who want him in the bullpen, and there are some people who want him to start.”
The role for Sanchez has been a point of contention for many outside the Blue Jays organization this season, but I was a little surprised to learn the club isn’t 100% in agreement on how to use him in 2015.
There are clearly two sides to the debate, with both camps having some valid points.
The Pro-Reliever Argument
Considering how well he performed pitching out of the bullpen in 2014, the Jays’ first inclination might be to keep him there as a hard-throwing reliever for the back end of the bullpen.
Sanchez was essentially a two-pitch pitcher out the bullpen last season, using his fastball 88% of the time and his curveball 11.2% of the time with the odd changeup. But does that kind of repertoire prevent him from being a good starter?
Unless you’re someone like R.A. Dickey, it’s extremely difficult to live off just one pitch as a starter.
In its current state, I’ll fully admit that Aaron Sanchez’ two-pitch approach projects to be much more effective as a reliever than a starter. His 97 MPH fastball is the fastest on the Blue Jays’ pitching staff, and nobody’s even close (Stroman hit 93.6 MPH).
And with the exits of guys like Dustin McGowan, Sergio Santos and Brandon Morrow, the Blue Jays’ bullpen is almost completely devoid of any hard-throwing relievers … save for Aaron Sanchez.
Just for comparison’s sake, last season the Royals had six relievers who could all throw 93 MPH or more. So unless Alex Anthopoulos is planning on acquiring some high impact arms between now and Spring Training, the Blue Jays’ bullpen might be completely comprised of finesse pitchers.
So one could argue the Blue Jays do in fact have a dire need for Aaron Sanchez in the bullpen rather than the rotation. Not even necessarily as a closer, just as a high impact reliever who can come in and throw some heat in the 7th, 8th or 9th innings of a ball game.
Marcus Stroman enjoyed incredible success during his first year in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation, but he boasted five different pitches (fastball, cutter, slider, curveball, changeup). His Stroman’s selection allowed him to still mix things up even after turning the lineup over for the second and third time.
I’m still not confident that Aaron Sanchez would have that same luxury as a starter, but there really only is one way to find out for sure; and that’s to start him off in the starting rotation and see what happens.
The Pro-Starter Argument
I’ve always kind of thought the bullpen has been a haven for failed starters. Heck, even the greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, began his career as a starter.
Just look at many of the arms already in the Blue Jays bullpen; Brett Cecil, Todd Redmond, Marco Estrada, Chad Jenkins and maybe even Kyle Drabek. These are all guys who either began their careers as starters or spent significant time in the starting rotation.
To me, the bullpen is not a place where you stash a promising young pitcher like Aaron Sanchez. Ideally, he’s the type of player the Blue Jays want to get 150 plus innings out of as a starter, not just 50 or 60 as a reliever.
Aaron Sanchez may prove to be a great in-house candidate to move into the bullpen, but here’s the thing; I don’t think the Blue Jays would’ve traded J.A. Happ unless they were confident one of Aaron Sanchez or Daniel Norris could step in as a replacement.
Right now, the Blue Jays starting rotation appears to be in good shape, but they are dangerously close to being one or two injuries away from having to call in reinforcements.
In 2013, the Blue Jays’ rotation was decimated by injuries and they subsequently called on virtually anybody to start (remember Chien-Ming Wang and Ramon Ortiz?). So taking a potential starter like Aaron Sanchez off of the starting rotation depth chart seems like a dangerous move.
Interestingly enough, Aaron Sanchez draws a lot of parallels here with his teammate and best friend, Marcus Stroman. Before his debut, many believed Stroman also projected better as a reliever, and indeed he made his MLB debut out of the bullpen.
However, that was because the Blue Jays’ bullpen was decimated and were in dire need of arms. If the circumstances were different, perhaps Stroman gets called up to start rather than pitch out of the bullpen.
In Conclusion …
If the Blue Jays find themselves with a surplus of starters in Spring Training, then perhaps Aaron Sanchez should move to the bullpen. Concurrently, if someone goes down to injury or others fail to live up to expectations, then Sanchez should be stretched out as a starter.
It really will all depend on what happens during those five weeks of Spring Training and perhaps even the exhibition games in Montreal. I honestly go back and forth on this every week, so I can see why the organization is still divided as to what to do with Sanchez.
Logic dictates he would be much more valuable to the Blue Jays as a starter, but the id part of my psyche really wants to see Aaron Sanchez close out games with his 97 MPH fastball.
Make no mistake; this is a good problem for the Blue Jays to have. It’s just imperative that the club doesn’t misuse or mishandle one of the organization’s biggest assets.
Image via Getty Images. Data via FanGraphs.