Saturday, January 12, 2008

Royals Insider: Angel Sanchez

Perhaps a shortstop named Angel can give Royals fans a glimmer of hope of the future at that position. No, I'm not referring to that Angel! I'm talking about 24-year old Angel Sanchez. Ranked the No. 19 Royals prospect by the blog The Royal Tower, Sanchez was born in Humacao, Puerto Rico, moved to the United States at a young age, and attended West Covina High School in California. He was drafted initially by the Florida Marlins in the 12th round of the amateur entry draft in 1999. However, he did not sign with the Fish and waited two years to re-enter the draft. In 2001, Allard Baird, in his first year at the helm of General Manager, drafted him in the 11th round of the June draft.

Signed that very day, Sanchez would enter two half-seasons of primarily middle infield play for the Gulf Coast League Royals, the then-Rookie-ball affiliate. Sanchez performed disappointingly at first glance but acceptably considering his young age, finishing with .242/.287/.284 and .251/.302/.274 line over 270 at-bats and 79 games those two seasons. However, Sanchez performed well enough defensively to earn a promotion to Class Low-A Burlington the following year. That season, he posted a .270/.321/.309 line, hitting 2 home runs in 106 games. In 2004, he didn't necessarily improve in any facet of the game - baserunning, defense, or offense. Still, the organization promoted him to Class A+ High Desert, a hitters league, where he posted a groovy .313/.356/.409 line in 585 at-bats. His fielding percentage improved considerably (.964) and he began to steal bases slightly more effectively (33% CS). However, it must be noted that the California League is a hitters league, and features ballparks located primarily in elevated locations, such as New Mexico and Colorado. The following year in Wichita, Sanchez continued to hit well in slightly less of a hitters league (Texas League), posting a .280/.337/.350 line in 543 at-bats. Perhaps what struck Royals scouts the most the previous three years is his remarkable maturity at shortstop. When healthy, Sanchez possesses the arm and range necessary to compete - someday - at the big-league level.

However, after being promoted that year to the Major Leagues for a cup of coffee, Sanchez would miss the entire 2007 season with right elbow surgery. It is highly likely that Sanchez would have played in Omaha during that season, and it is unknown whether he would have continued to improve at the plate during his age 23 season, or regress slightly in the largest talent-leap in the Minor Leagues (AA to AAA). However, it should be understood that Sanchez began playing professional baseball at an extremely young age (17) and has improved noticeably each stop on the organizational ladder since 2002. It must also be noted that Allard Baird perhaps rushed the young prospect, forcing him to play with far more experienced and more talented players.

According to The Royal Tower:

When healthy, Sanchez is an unbelievable defender, similar to what we see in Tony Pena, Jr. in both range and arm strength. He's an advanced contact hitter with the ability to talk a walk, although hasn't hit for much power to date. Angel is a fairly well built guy, and should be a gap-to-gap doubles hitter as he matures physically.

Sanchez will enter his age 24 season in 2007, and it will be interesting to see if he has matured physically enough to resume where he left off in a promising, but not by any means overwhelming, showing in the Texas League. However, we must be patient, as he will likely still need several months to recuperate from his 2007 surgery and rehabilitation. It's safe to deem Sanchez a top 30 or 40 prospect, and I believe that he will again experience brief, limited time at the Major Leagues come late summer.


GS/G: 101/106
AVG: .267
OBP: .318
SLG: .389
HR: 3
RBI: 52
SB: 11
CS: 5

Kansas City:
GS/G: 4/8
AVG: .230
OBP: .308
SLG: .420
HR: 0
RBI: 0
SB: 0
CS: 0
(Please interpret the above statistics with a grain of salt).

- Tender age (24) makes him intriguing prospect likely to improve in the Minor Leagues.
- Improved bat-handling maximizes his potential as a #2 hitter. (11 SH in 2006)
- Solid range factor in the Minor Leagues (4.73 as SS, 5.17 as 2B) and above average arm when healthy.

- Extremely limited home-run power and marginal doubles power (13 career HR's, .343 career SLG in Minors - Texas & California league included)
- Injury-plagued 2007 season could serve as sinister indicator for his future (missed season with elbow surgery)
- Lackluster, but slightly improving, plate discipline (career +.46 BA/OBP split in Minors)

On-field performance:
Regresses dramatically at plate: 10%
Repeats 2006 Wichita performance: 65%
Improves significantly from 2006: 25%

Injury contingency:
Injured for 15 days or more: 30%

Entire 2008 season in Omaha: 65%
Half-season in Wichita, half-season in Omaha: 25%
Half-season in Omaha, half-season in Kansas City: 10%

Job allocation:
Starting shortstop in Minor Leagues most of 2008: 95%
Backup/reserve in Major Leagues most of 2008: 5%

It's probably too soon to instantly deem Sanchez the "shortstop of the future" but if he continues his slight upward trend he will certainly remain in the mix with other future shortstops, such as Mike Moustakas, Alberto Callaspo, or Jeff Bianchi. Honestly, I have no idea how his elbow surgery will affect Sanchez's 2007 season, if at all. I'm also unsure when he'll be completely 100% for the season. I'm anxious to watch the 24-year old in Spring Training, whether he's merely practicing with the club or participating in games. Sanchez should set a personal benchmark for the 2008 season. If he can hit .270/.330/.400, and commit fewer than 22 errors in 100+ games, I'll be satisfied. I'm an Angel Sanchez fan and believe that, despite being rushed in the Minors, he can only improve with age.

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