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2021 Marlins Season Preview: Sixto Sánchez

The future ace of the Marlins has Rookie of the Year written all over him, but when will he start his campaign?

Sixto Sanchez #45 of the Miami Marlins poses during Photo Day at Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

It’s no secret that the strength of the Miami Marlins organization is their young starting pitching. Come Opening Day the oldest starter in the Marlins rotation will be just 25, and almost everybody on the depth chart is homegrown talent, acquired either via trade as a prospect or drafted and developed by Miami. The Marlins have at least 10 arms at or just below the Major League level with the potential to be in the rotation for a long time.

None of them have Marlins fans more excited than Sixto Sánchez.

Sixto jumped out of our televisions and onto the scene when he made his Major League debut in 2020. In 39 innings over seven starts, Sixto had a 3.50 FIP, a 7.62 K/9 and a 1.21 WHIP. His electric stuff caught the attention of fans and neutrals across the country, and shone a bright light on the work the Marlins organization has done to build a sustainable future.

2020 served as the perfect transition year for Sixto as he got his first big league experience and even got a couple postseason starts, while holding onto his rookie eligibility for 2021. Sixto was so good in 2020 that it has a lot of people believing he could be a serious contender for NL Rookie of the Year if all goes according to plan. According to Vegas Insider, Sixto has the second-highest odds to win NL ROY at +500, behind only Pirates 3B Ke’Bryan Hayes.

After his impressive rookie showing, expectations are certainly sky high for Sixto, but how high should we set them? Sixto wasn’t perfect last year and we’re sure to see some hiccups in his first full year in the Bigs. Sixto’s 2.54 BB/9 was higher than what we got used to in the minors, and he struggled when he saw a team for the 2nd time. In his last two starts of the regular season (against the Nationals and Braves who had seen him before) Sixto allowed nine runs on 12 hits and six walks, with just four strikeouts in only seven innings.

Sixto will have growing pains this year, and he’s said this spring his biggest improvement will need to be how he adjusts to teams that have seen him before, something he’ll do a lot over 162 games. The projections seem to think Sixto will have a really solid season, but we may need to temper some ROY or Cy Young expectations because he’s certainly not a finished product.

2021 ZiPS Projection: 3.86 ERA 3.96 FIP 7.71 K/9 1.26 WHIP

Another thing Marlins fans may need to temper their expectations about is when they’ll actually see Sixto this season. At the beginning of Spring Training, Sixto returned a false positive test result for COVID-19 that put his schedule behind everybody else. While the rest of the projected rotation has made five starts this spring, Sixto made just his 3rd appearance on Thursday.

In that start Sixto went 3 13 innings, allowing just three hits, one run, one walk and striking out three. He was touching 101 in the first inning, throwing his changeup anywhere from 87-93, and his slider touched 91. He threw 45 strikes out of 61 pitches, so his stuff and command is not the worry.

If Sixto throws again Tuesday (3/30) on the backfields in Jupiter, it would be his 4th “start” of the spring, likely stretching out to 75-80 pitches. For context, guys like Sandy Alcantara and Pablo López each ramped up for the season with 5 starts and are scheduled to finish up this weekend with what manager Don Mattingly calls “back downs,” starts that are just three innings to keep loose and end their spring.

Will Sixto follow the same progression? Mattingly would not say what the chances are that he makes the initial rotation when the 26-man roster is set next week, only that he’ll need to be built up to the team’s liking before being activated.

It’s possible if Tuesday’s start goes well enough that the Marlins think he’s ready to go and pitch him on April 5 against the Cardinals, but don’t bet on it.

There is a decent chance Sixto will throw that day at Marlins camp instead, then join up with the big league club for their trip to New York from April 8-11. In that scenario, he’d be scheduled to make his first big league start on April 10 if all goes according to plan.

Right now, my guess is Sixto won’t be on the Opening Day roster, leaving two rotation spots to be filled by two of Nick Neidert, Trevor Rogers, and Daniel Castano.

It’s a shame the Marlins are in this situation, but it’s just the reality of what we’re living with right now. The good news is that no matter when it happens Sixto will be here eventually, and he certainly promises to electrify with that #45 on his back.