Amid a road trip to kick off the 2022 campaign, the Miami Marlins stopped in Orange County to take on the Los Angeles Angels for a brief two-game set. The Fish dropped the contest 6-2, but Jesús Sánchez turned in a stellar performance, displaying his potential as a prototypical, power-hitting outfielder. The Dominican product first took Michael Lorenzen deep after the right-hander left a cutter up in the zone, then punished a Raisel Iglesias fastball in the ninth inning. These two mammoth home runs were a taste of what the slugger can do as long as he maintains contact precision.
Sánchez was a 2014 international signee of the Tampa Bay Rays, inking with the organization for $400,000. He remained with them until 2019, when he was dealt to a Miami Marlins franchise looking to replenish their farm system with projectible, toolsy bats. Sánchez received a cup of coffee with the 2020 squad that made a playoff push. However, he didn’t see proper major league action until 2021, when a 178 wRC+ through 155 plate appearances at Jacksonville eventually earned him everyday playing time in Miami. Upon his promotion, Jesús responded well, posting a .339 wOBA and knocking fourteen round-trippers in his abbreviated rookie campaign.
To provide competition and mentorship to the budding young talent in the Marlins’ pipeline, General Manager Kim Ng made two significant signings this past offseason, bringing in Avisaíl García and Jorge Soler. The team struggled mightily at the plate, and Sánchez was no exception, mustering an OPS of just .658 before being sent down to Triple-A in August. Jesús found his groove in Jacksonville and earned the opportunity to close the season with the big league squad. In this brief stint, he torched the opposition to the tune of a 217 wRC+.
Center field was Sánchez’s full-time defensive home for the majority of the season. However, in the small sample immediately before and after his Jacksonville stint, the Marlins moved him to left field.
Despite being bookended by bright spots, the 2022 season was largely a disappointment for the Dominican import. So, what went wrong?
Let’s begin with his aggressive approach at the plate. A ruby-red flag in his profile since his days as an amateur, Jesús has struggled to work counts as a professional, walking just 7.6% of the time in 343 plate appearances this season (MLB average was 8.2%). Looking under the hood, he ran an abysmal 36.2% chase rate while connecting in the zone a modest 85.3% of the time. The latter metric is slightly above the league average of 83%, so Sánchez appears to display a clean swing plane. Still, there’s concern about his inability to pick out non-fastballs. Improving his pitch recognition will be a crucial x-factor in his development.
Aside from working on his discipline, upcoming MLB rule changes could contribute to a potential rebound for Sánchez next season, particularly with the banning of the infield shift.
Can #Marlins Jesús Sánchez bounce back in 2023?— Mike Kurland (@Mike_Kurland) November 22, 2022
vs the Shift in 2022:
Shifted against: 49.9%
Shift ban should help
96th percentile max exit velo
Just turned 25 (in prime)
Cut down K% in 2H - small sample though pic.twitter.com/ftGTdpoIP3
Sánchez was guilty of pulling 42.8% of all balls in play this year, and the opposition exposed this by shifting their defensive setup for almost half of his plate appearances. Look for him to have more green to play with in 2023, given his 70-grade precocious raw power.
Jesús Sánchez is the Marlins’ best young outfield talent. Scouts have raved for years about his raw power data, but he’s unproven and must tweak his swing decisions to harness his strength and rotational athleticism fully.
Throughout an entire season, Jesús’ average outcome projects him as a two WAR player per season or an average full-time starter in the major leagues. Best-case scenario, he could be a quality everyday player who could hit 30+ home runs a year. There’s also the risk of him bottoming out as a power-first platoon option.
Sánchez is as polarizing as he is projectable, but his improving approach and the shift’s eventual banning have me optimistic about his future value output. I expect him to at least be a part of Miami’s plans in 2023, if not the long-term bigger picture.