Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2016-17 BBM Winter Awards: Jake Sanchez, Pitcher of the Year

These awards are never easy to assign winners to and 2016-17 Pitcher of the Year was no exception.  Who to choose?  Should it go to a starting pitcher who led the Mexican Pacific League in wins and strikeouts while finishing third in ERA?  Or a relief pitcher who was as close to a sure thing out of the bullpen as you can find, with a MexPac-leading 21 saves and an ERA of 0.28 while only allowing one earned run all season until the final game of the recently-concluded Caribbean Series?  For this particular award, we went with the closer from California.  We'll get to the first guy later.

A 27-year-old righty, Sanchez graduated in 2008 from Brawley's Union High School, which produced future MLB pitchers Sergio Romo, Rudy Seanez and Sid Monge.  After pitching juco ball at nearby Imperial Valley College and finishing his collegiate career at DIII Iowa Wesleyan (alumni of former All-Star 2B Davey Lopes), the undrafted Sanchez spent parts of two summers with Joliet of the independent Frontier League before signing with the White Sox as a free agent in 2013.  He was assigned to Great Falls of the rookie Pioneer League that summer, where he led the loop with a 2.87 ERA and 76 strikeouts en route to a 6-3 record as a starter and was named Pitcher of the Year.

The next two seasons saw Sanchez compile a 24-13 overall record for both organization at three levels of minor league ball (including a 1-1 mark in two starts at AAA Nashville in 2015), the year the Chisox traded him to the A's organization.  The winter of 2015-16 marked a turning point in Sanchez' career, as he was converted into a reliever in Mexicali by manager Edgar Gonzalez.  Although he struggled for the Aguilas that year (4 saves and a 5.14 ERA), Sanchez showed enough out of the bullpen to continue as a reliever in AA Midland last summer.  It wasn't an auspicious season, as Jake was 7-5 with eight saves in a team-leading 44 appearances but his 3.10 ERA was a marked improvement over the 4.50 figure he put up for the RockHounds in 2015 as a starter.

At the beginning of his second year with Mexicali last October, some improvement was hoped for but nobody expected what Sanchez accomplished.  After claiming the closer's role for the Aguilas under then-manager Gil Velazquez, the 6'1" 205-pounder proceeded to stand the LMP on its ear as he put together a 1-0 record with a league-leading 21 saves in 30 appearances, walking just five batters in 31.2 innings and striking out 27 batters.  Sanchez' regular season success carried over into the playoffs as he reigstered five more saves and striking out 21 in 17.1 frames over ten appearances, then recording two more saves in the Caribbean Series for the Aguilas before giving up his second earned run over the entire season to Puerto Rico's Caguas in the tenth inning of the championship game to take the loss.  Even so, he was named as the top reliever in the CS by writers and broadcasters.

After ending the 2016 with an uncertain future in the A's system, Jake Sanchez has converted a dominant winter into a berth with the Mexican National Team under Edgar Gonzalez in next month's World Baseball Classic.  It's impossible that his work over the past four months didn't catch the eye of GM Billy Beane and others in the Oakland front office.  He sure caught ours and becomes the first reliever to win this award since former Pirates hurler Jose Silva with Culiacan in 2010-11.

2010       Bobby Cramer, Quintana Roo
2010-11  Jose Silva, Culiacan
2011       Francisco Campos, Campeche
2015-16  Javier Solano, Mexicali
2016       Yoanner Negrin, Yucatan
2016-17  Jake Sanchez, Mexicali