A talented reliever with ridiculously nasty breaking pitches, he's been passed on the depth chart by guys like Trevor Rosenthal and Joe Kelly who made impressive major league debuts in 2012. Meanwhile Sanchez tried to regain his control in the minors after struggling at the end of 2011 and through last season with a shoulder strain. His chances of making the club have been further diminished by the trade for Edward Mujica who has emerged as a great seventh inning man and by Mitchell Boggs' settling in as the bullpen's set-up man.
But Sanchez showed Saturday in the Cardinals' spring training opener that he's still got the electric stuff that made him a valuable piece of the St. Louis bullpen in 2011. He struck out two of the three batters he faced in a dominant inning of work against the Marlins.
Sanchez's problem has always been that he walked too many. But he's a great candidate to be a righty stopper out of the bullpen. Someone who can bail out the starter in the sixth inning when he's in a jam. And that role could be at a premium with at least one rookie in the rotation along with veteran Jake Westbrook, rarely these days much more than a five-inning pitcher.
That job seems earmarked right now for Trevor Rosenthal who was sensational last season with his 101-mile an hour fastball. But if Rosenthal makes the rotation as its fifth starter -- and if Sanchez can keep the walks down -- the Redbirds might opt to keep Sanchez and send Shelby Miller to Class AAA Memphis where he could start instead of limiting his innings by putting him in the St. Louis bullpen.
I'd love to see Miller make a leap forward this spring. But, I'd also like to see Sanchez get another major league chance because he is simply too good a talent to cast away.
In 2011, at the tender age of 22, Sanchez was part of a desperate mid-season bullpen overhaul that resulted in the Cardinals staging a miraculous September comeback and eventually winning the World Series. He pitched 30 innings for St. Louis -- usually in high leverage situations in the eighth or ninth inning -- during that second half and did a fantastic job. Sanchez allowed less than a hit every two innings while striking out 35 batters. Even during those good times, Sanchez walked 16 hitters and kept things more interesting than necessary. But he always seemed to be able to reach down deep and get a key out when he needed it. The guts of a cat burglar are a valuable trait for a relief pitcher.
The wheels fell off, however, in 2012. Sanchez pitched only 15 innings for St. Louis and walked 13 batters while striking out the same number. He spent the balance of the season trying to work things out in the minors where he struggled to a 5.86 ERA in Memphis.
Apparently finally healthy, Sanchez could go a long way towards re-establishing himself this spring. He'll have a tough job winning one of seven bullpen spots when Boggs and Mujica will get two of them reserved for righty pitchers and closer Jason Mott will get another. Marc Rzepczynski and free agent acquisition Randy Choate seem assured of two slots for lefties. That leaves only two openings that will be contested by Sanchez, Miller, Rosenthal, Kelly, Fernando Salas and Victor Marte. If Miller makes the rotation, Rosenthal will almost certainly get one of the two slots and Sanchez would have to take fellow 2011 standout Salas' job.
Barring an injury that changes the landscape, it seems Sanchez's chances of making the opening day roster are slim. Still, if the dominoes fall just right, Sanchez could make this club and be a real difference maker in 2013.
Scott Wuerz has been a reporter and columnist at the Belleville News-Democrat, located in suburban St. Louis, since 1998. During that time he has covered three St. Louis Cardinals World Series appearances, the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star game and Mark McGwire's chase to break Roger Maris' home run record. He has penned the View From the Cheap Seats Cardinals fan blog for the News-Democrat since 2007.
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