Marlins right-hander Sixto Sanchez is “taking a bit longer than originally hoped” to recover from July’s season-ending shoulder surgery, tweets MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, which has pushed back his readiness to appear in a game setting. Obviously, with the entire season in limbo right now, Sanchez won’t miss any immediate games, but Heyman suggests it’d be midseason before the touted 23-year-old will be ready to return. It’s a change in tone from when Sanchez himself went on record earlier this year to say he felt “100 percent” and expected to be ready to go when the 2022 season rolled around.
Sanchez was a bright spot for the 2020 Marlins, graduating from top prospect status to a successful big league pitcher at just 22 years of age. The centerpiece prospect in the trade that sent J.T. Realmuto to the division-rival Phillies, Sanchez logged 39 innings of 3.46 ERA ball with a 20.9% strikeout rate, a 7.0% walk rate and a massive 58.0% grounder rate. The strikeout rate was perhaps surprisingly low for a pitcher with Sanchez’s combination of pedigree and raw stuff (98.8 mph average on his heater, plus changeup), but Sanchez was making the jump straight from Double-A to the big leagues. He also turned in a huge 12.8% swinging-strike rate and 38.7% opponents’ chase rate, both of which point to the possibility for more whiffs down the road.
Sanchez missed time early in the 2021 season, first due to a lengthy stay in COVID-19 protocols during spring training and later due to shoulder discomfort. The Marlins eventually shut him down until early summer due to that first bout of shoulder pain, and he was shut down again when the discomfort returned between bullpen sessions. Eventually, a small tear in Sanchez’s posterior capsule was discovered, which resulted in an early-July procedure that ended his season.
While there’s no concrete timeline for his return, the broader cause for concern is that a decelerated rehab program only causes further worry regarding Sanchez’s surgically repaired shoulder. It’s already been nearly 18 months since Sanchez pitched in a big league game, and while he couldn’t work out at Marlins facilities anyhow because he’s on the 40-man roster, it doesn’t sound as though he’d have been ready to take the mound had spring training been underway as originally scheduled. At the time of the surgery, general manager Kim Ng announced that Sanchez would resume throwing in three months’ time but wasn’t likely to pitch in winter ball. That timeline now rather clearly appears to have been pushed back.
Even without Sanchez, the Marlins boast an enviable crop of arms, headlined by newly extended ace Sandy Alcantara, who signed a five-year, $56M deal prior to the current lockout. He’ll be followed in the rotation by Trevor Rogers, Pablo Lopez, Elieser Hernandez and Jesus Luzardo, though Miami has plenty of arms beyond that top quintet. Righty Edward Cabrera is regarded as one of the game’s most promising pitching prospects and already made his MLB debut in 2021. Flamethrowing righty Max Meyer, the No. 3 overall pick in 2020, is also considered among the game’s best arms and could open the year in Triple-A.
Other depth options on the roster include Braxton Garrett, Nick Neidert, Daniel Castano, Cody Poteet and Paul Campbell — all of whom have pitched in the big leagues. Further down the pipeline are righty Eury Perez and lefty Jake Eder, the latter of whom will miss the ’22 season due to Tommy John surgery but is as highly regarded as any arm in the Miami system.
That deep reserve of pitching talent notwithstanding, Sanchez is a key piece to the Marlins’ future and, had he been healthy, would’ve been viewed as a vital rotation candidate for the upcoming campaign. The team isn’t likely to issue any kind of formal statement on his outlook while the lockout is going on, but his status will be a key storyline to follow for Marlins fans whenever the lockout lifts.