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2020 Marlins Season Preview: Jesús Sánchez

One of the fresher faces in the Marlins farm system, Sánchez enters 2020 as a top prospect with a big league debut potentially on the horizon.

MiLB: JUNE 11 Florida State League - Stone Crabs at Blue Jays Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The annual tradition has returned. Leading up to Opening Day, Fish Stripes will be previewing the 2020 Marlins season, one player at a time. Find every article of the series here.

Where Did He Come From?: The Marlins acquired OF Jesús Sánchez from the Rays along with RHP Ryne Stanek in exchange for RHPs Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards.

2019 Performance: .260 AVG | .325 OBP | .398 SLG | 13 HR | 100 K | 39 BB | 454 PA (Double and Triple-A)

At the 2019 trade deadline, the Marlins pulled off a somewhat surprising deal with the competitive Rays, moving a pair of big league arms for opener/reliever extraordinaire Ryne Stanek and outfielder Jesús Sánchez, who was among the top prospects in an extremely strong system. There had been little chatter around Sánchez as a potential trade chip, but the Rays, who operate under strict budget restrictions, are often willing to move upside to find players who best fit their competitive timetable. They determined that Anderson and Richards were worth it.

Sánchez’s aforementioned upside has been apparent for some time now. Signed in 2014, Sánchez is the type of player that immediately stands out with physical gifts—in his case, an athletic 6’3” frame, plus-plus bat speed from the left side and the foot speed to handle the outfield. On top of those impressive traits, Sánchez was a highly successful hitter in his early days in stateside pro ball. In 2016, he crushed two rookie levels to the tune of a .329/.351/.549 line, which earned him some top 100 honorable mentions entering 2017. The next year he put up a .301/.348/.478 performance for Bowling Green in the Midwest League, which vaulted him firmly into most top 100 lists, where he has stayed for good since.

While his stock has largely held steady since that point, his performance has tapered off some as he has moved up the ladder, and what flaws were present in his profile have persisted. In 2018, Sanchez performed admirably in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League, posting a .301/.331/.462 slash in 90 games, which earned him a promotion to Double-A, where he then struggled to the tune of .214/.300/.327. His 2019 campaign mirrored this to a degree—he got his feet under him at the Double-A level, improving to a .275/.332/.404 line, and was promoted to Triple-A prior to being traded, where he was hitting just .206 at the time of the deal.

As the above slash lines suggest, Sánchez’s plate discipline has raised some eyebrows. While he maintains strikeout rates in a reasonable range, Sánchez never drew walks consistently in the low minors, and his raw power hasn’t been fully utilized in games. While it’s not uncommon for power to take some time to manifest in live action, he already has developed physical strength and demonstrated contact skills. Rather, the middling production is largely attributed to a lack of loft in his swing. As FanGraphs noted in their Marlins prospects list, Sanchez had just a 7-degree launch angle in 2019 to go with a 50+% ground ball rate, adding “[he] has feel for contact, just not for contact in the air.”

Tuning Sánchez’s approach and gearing him for more power will no doubt be a focus as he returns to Triple-A, where he finished the 2019 campaign. The Marlins seem to have generated some early returns in tinkering with Monte Harrison and Jazz Chisholm on the hitting side, not to mention several of the organization’s pitchers, so there’s reason for optimism with Sanchez going forward.

He generated plenty of loft on his home runs following the trade:

2020 Outlook

Evaluators remain largely bullish on Sánchez, with all major outlets ranking him among their top 100 prospects. There is some variation among those rankings—while both Baseball Prospectus and MLB Pipeline ranked him 80th overall, Baseball America gave him a more optimistic ranking at 58th. Sánchez has ranked higher in past editions, but the relative lack of progress over 2018 and 2019 has tempered expectations a bit.

While his numbers over the last two seasons aren’t outstanding, it’s important to keep in mind that Sánchez has been at least two years younger than the average player at his level at every stop since his GCL days. He won’t turn 23 until this October, and has ample time to sharpen his skills at Triple-A. The Marlins have plenty of options in the outfield in the short term, so there’s no need to aggressively push Sanchez to the big leagues in 2020. That said, his raw offensive upside is greater than any outfielder in the organization save for J.J. Bleday, so the path is there for him to hit his way into a role by early summer. If progress comes more slowly, we may not see him in the bigs until 2021.