It has been a season filled with notable debuts thus far for Miami, with top organizational prospects like Monte Harrison, Alex Vesia and Lewin Díaz having made their first trips to the big leagues already. That group will grow when the Marlins take the field next, as it is now widely reported that the club will be calling up two of their most prized minor leaguers, Sixto Sánchez and Jesús Sánchez, for their weekend series.
Both players were acquired by the Marlins in trades—Sixto was the centerpiece in the team’s return for star catcher J.T. Realmuto, and Jesús was acquired at the 2019 trade deadline in the deal for Nick Anderson and Trevor Richards. Each player was immediately placed among the top prospects in the system upon their acquisition, with Sixto occupying the #1 spot on organizational rankings for much of the time since he joined the club. Their debuts are highly anticipated at this point, and the Marlins are hoping that their presence will give the big league squad a shot in the arm as they look to get back to their winning ways.
Sixto has been on the national radar for several years now, first dazzling scouts as a Phillies prospect in rookie ball, where he turned heads with a fastball that could touch triple digits, an impressive slider and starter traits, drawing some loose comps to a young Pedro Martínez. Obviously, that’s an absurd comp to throw on any player, but it’s illustrative of the kind of hype that he was able to generate from an early stage in his career. Almost immediately, he became one of the top prospects in a relatively scant Phillies farm system, and the hype only increased when he made a successful transition to full-season ball in 2017, pitching his way to a 2.41 ERA in 13 Low-A starts. That performance earned him a promotion to High-A when he was still a teenager, and while he wasn’t quite as successful there, he held his own in five starts to wrap up a very successful year.
As a result, Sixto entered the 2018 campaign with significant hype, with many expecting him to solidify himself as one of the top pitching prospects in the game in his return to High-A at age 20. Unfortunately, what many hoped would be a full-fledged breakout ended up being the start of a somewhat concerning trend, as he ended up missing most of the season with injuries to his elbow and collarbone. He was only able to make eight starts on the year, and while the results were strong it gave evaluators pause. While onlookers were always blown away by his high octane stuff, there were always some questions about his rather slight frame and whether or not he’d hold up with a full starter’s workload, and the occurrences of the 2018 campaign lent some credence to those questions.
While some might have been scared off of Sixto at this point, the Marlins apparently saw it as an opportunity to strike. At the time Sánchez was considered quite comfortably the best prospect in the Philadelphia organization, and prior to the injury-riddled season, many in baseball viewed him as untouchable. The Marlins had long been in search of a trade partner for J.T. Realmuto, and struck a deal centered around the two in February of 2019. Following the deal, Sixto was placed at the top of virtually all Marlins organizational rankings, and fans were largely pleased with the return for Realmuto, which had been speculated on for months leading up to the deal, and it was at this point that the team’s now formidable farm system began to take shape.
The 2019 season ended up being another in which Sixto didn’t really get a full season’s work, but it was a result of being handled with care rather than any new major injuries. When he was on the mound, he was largely very impressive. His velocity remained elite, sitting 94-97 and touching higher as a starter, while continuing to throw his biting slider with confidence, putting some of the concerns surrounding him in the rearview.
That said, another mildly concerning trend in Sixto’s career continued in 2019 as well—despite his elite stuff, he didn’t strike out very many batters. This had always been the case, as going back to his rookie ball days, he has never struck out more than a batter per inning at any minor league stop, which is at odds with his stuff profile. Most evaluators assumed that the missed bats would start to show up at some point in his minor league career, and now that he was pitching in the upper minors with middling K rates, some started to wonder if they’d ever be a big part of his game.
That’s a question that persists today, with Sixto primed to make his big league debut in the next few days. Many have offered the explanation that the low strikeouts are a result of him pitching within the zone more often than not, generating more weak contact that missed bats, but some worry that such an approach could lead to more hard-hit balls than hoped at the big league level. It’ll be a situation to monitor as he makes the transition, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t carve out a role for himself in short order with his combination of elite velocity and impressive fastball command. Additionally, it sounds like his velocity has actually been up in his work at the Jupiter training site this year, with Jon Heyman reporting that he’s been regularly touching 100 mph.
While there are a wide range of outcomes for Sixto in his jump to the bigs, most involve him locking down a rotation role for the foreseeable future. It’s possible that his low strikeouts will continue to be a concern, but even if that is the case his proclivity for weak contact should allow him to perform like at least a back end starter out of the gates. His approach on the mound will be worth monitoring, as whether or not the Marlins want to tweak his method of attack at this point is an open question—they may be just fine with him going right at hitters, or they may rather he pitch outside the zone more, particularly with his secondaries, to generate more swinging strikes. Whatever the outcome, he adds quite a bit of juice to a Marlins rotation that has been a tad uneven in the chaotic 2020 season.
When Sixto takes the hill for his first start, there’s a good chance he will be supported defensively by another top prospect with whom he shares a surname: Jesús Sánchez. One of the few top prospects in the organization with a shorter tenure with the team than Sixto, Jesús was acquired roughly one year ago, along with Ryne Stanek, in the Nick Anderson deal with Tampa at last year’s trade deadline. Despite the fact that Anderson was probably the best relief pitcher in baseball down the stretch last year, Miami was lauded for the deal, as Jesús has consistently ranked in top 100s for a couple of years now, and reeling him in for a bullpen arm, even an elite late inning stopper, was seen as a strong get.
Similar to Sixto, Jesús’ stock has always been driven more by the eye test than the stat sheet. He made a name for himself early in his career, impressing with big physicality and some of the best bat speed in baseball, as well as some rock solid rookie ball performance. With a 6’3” frame and ample mobility for the outfield, Jesús fits the classic right field prototype to a T, and he quickly had scouts salivating over his potential to hit for both average and power. As a young minor leaguer, he showed fantastic contact rates and hit for high averages up through High-A ball, generating some serious hype. However, when he reached Double-A, some of the blemishes in his profile were magnified.
While Sánchez has little issue getting bat on ball, even when he’s struggling, he has run into stretches of relatively poor contact, hitting a lot of balls on the ground. This became an issue for him in the upper minors- in his first trip to Double-A, he hit just .214 in 110 plate appearances despite a solid 19.3% K rate. It was a small sample, however, and he had managed solid power numbers in A-ball, so evaluators were largely willing to throw it out, but the trend persisted in his return to the level in 2019. While he did improve upon his numbers, bringing his slash line to .275/.332/.404, his power numbers were still not nearly in line with what evaluators had hoped for when they placed him in the heart of their top 100s prior to the season.
In the midst of his middling Double-A campaign, the Rays made the somewhat surprising move to promote him to Triple-A, where he played in 18 games and struggled mightily, hitting just over the Mendoza line with little power. This wasn’t really a shock, as few saw Sánchez as ready for a promotion at this point. The Rays’ motivation became a bit clearer when he was promptly traded to Miami after just 18 games.
The Marlins opted to keep him at the Triple-A level upon his arrival, and he performed much better with his new organization. While he only got 17 more games in with New Orleans, he managed 4 home runs and a .200 ISO, showing more loft on his swing in the brief look.
Jesús has not played in an official game since that brief run, and as a result is a rather enigmatic prospect at this point. He hasn’t lost any of the physical ability that initially made him a coveted talent, and he was showing signs of a breakthrough the last time he was on the field, but evaluators still haven’t seen him sustain real power production over a longer stretch. This is an issue for a corner outfield prospect, and Sánchez’ quality of contact will be worth monitoring closely as he transitions to the big leagues, as his future role hinges on his ability to drive the ball. If he shows improvement in that area, he’ll project as a regular in the Miami outfield for years to come, but he’s still got something to prove as he makes the leap.
The debuts will make it an even more exciting time to be a Marlins fan. The club has been competitive in 2020 despite ample adversity, and their roster of the future is beginning to take shape simultaneously. Now, they’ll add two of the top players in a farm system that has grown to be one of the most formidable in the game to their big league roster, offering a window to the club’s future as well as some exciting reinforcements for the 2020 playoff push at the same time. It remains to be seen just how long each will be with the club, but Sixto should be given every chance to seize a permanent role right away, and while he still has some questions to answer, his profile immediately adds a component of power of the team’s pitching staff- and there could be further exciting debuts on the horizon later this season with players like Jazz Chisholm and Max Meyer waiting in the wings.
In just a couple of years, the Marlins’ front office has been able to completely change the complexion of their farm system. Now in turn, that of the big league club is changing with it.