New York Yankees Prospect Profile No. 28: Romulo Sanchez
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Romulo Sanchez was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Venezuela by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, and he debuted in the Dominican Summer League that year as an 18-year-old.
When Sanchez was released by the Dodgers before the 2004 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up. Being a pitcher in the Pirates system is always a great opportunity for young players, because they never have much in their way. In 2005, as a starter, the big right hander didn't do much to reward the Pirates for giving him a second chance. He didn't walk too many people, but he wasn't striking anyone out either; this resulted in a very poor K:BB ratio 1.33.
In 2006, the Pirates decided to try him as a reliever, expecting his stuff to play up. The move to the bullpen didn't help Sanchez. He continued to have the same issues—too many walks and not enough strikeouts.
The Pirates began to treat him like an organizational arm; they promoted him all the way up to Double-A despite his struggles just to fill a hole. The future didn't look bright for Romulo at this point, but the Pirates kept him at AA to start the 2007 season. Sanchez thrived in his second year pitching out of the bullpen. He posted a career high K/9 of 8.1 and a career low BB/9 of 2.7.
The Pirates were so impressed with his improvements that they promoted him straight to the majors, skipping AAA. He finished the season in the majors, pitching 18 innings with a sub-par 4.96 FIP, and only 5.5 strikeouts per nine IP.
His average fastball velocity was 94.6 mph and he topped out at around 97 mph. The showing wasn't terribly unimpressive, considering he had yet to pitch in AAA and was only 23. He was on the 40-man roster and had put himself in a position to contribute to the Pirates in 2008.
Romulo had separate stints with the major league team in July, August, and September. He posted a better FIP this time around, but that was just because he didn't give up any home runs. His other numbers were very disconcerting.
He struck out only three batters through 13.1 innings and walked six. His velocity had also dropped to under 93 mph, and he only topped 95 a few times.
The trend was not a good one. It was a small sample but it was enough for him to clear waivers when the Pirates dropped him off the 40-man after the 2008 season in favor of outfielder Craig Monroe.
Sanchez started the year in Triple-A, but was now off the 40-man roster. He pitched just 12.1 innings for Indianapolis, and had an underwhelming ERA of 4.38.
However, he did strike out 15 batters in this span. The Yankees designated Eric Hacker for assignment, giving up all leverage when looking for a trading partner. They found a match with Pittsburgh, and traded Hacker for Romulo Sanchez straight up.
At the time, I said that I would rather have Hacker than Sanchez, but noted that Sanchez's fastball and 2009 strikeout rate were promising.
Well, I'll admit that I was dead-wrong. Sanchez has a much better chance of being a useful piece than the recently DFA'd Hacker does. Romulo got off to a slow start with Triple-A Scranton pitching out of the bullpen.
He gave up six runs in 9.1 innings; he struck out nine, but walked eight. Then, his season took a turn for the better. Scranton's rotation was full of holes, and Sanchez was moved into the rotation for the first time since early 2006. To say that he thrived in the rotation might be an understatement.
As a starter, he struck out 55 in 55.1 innings, while maintaining high-90s fastballs into the middle innings. He was just overpowering hitters, getting ground balls and posting the best whiff rate of his minor league career.
What Sanchez did as a starter in 2009 was what prompted me to put him in my top 30 prospects. If you throw 99 mph and get great results as a starter in AAA, you are on the map and will probably be able to help out a major league team.
Sanchez is a huge guy, standing 6-foot-5 and weighing at least 250 pounds. At the end of the 2009 season, Sanchez's stuff was as good as it ever has been. He was dialing it up to 99 mph in the fourth inning as a starter. His fastball is his plus pitch.
If his improvements are real, he can be expected to sit in the high 90s and touch 99 with some movement. His changeup is decent, and he could probably afford to use it a little bit more.
He throws his changeup at around 86 mph, a nice difference from his heater. Again, his slider is just decent, coming in at 85-86 with decent movement but a lack of command. He has a great fastball, and that is what he works off of.
He can struggle with command in a given outing, but he generally is able to throw his fastball for strikes and generate swings and misses with it. Because his other pitches are probably below average, he's only a bullpen option in the majors. His heater gives him the upside of being a guy in the back-end of the bullpen.
I was happy to see the Yankees add him to the 40-man roster. It was nice to know I'm not the only one who considers the guy a prospect. Sanchez is a pretty sure bet to begin the season in Triple-A Scranton, but I really can't tell you whether he'll start or relieve there.
My guess would be that they'll start him out in the bullpen, since that is where his future lies. If he gets off to a good start, you can expect him to be one of the first call-ups in 2010.
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