Jesus Sanchez flew around the bases as a fly ball looped and swirled down the left-field line before it eventually fell in fair territory. He saw the outfielder flip over the wall trying to make a play, forcing the opposing third baseman to race to left field to grab the ball.
Sanchez slid into third base for an RBI triple, took off his shin and elbow guards and, with a big smile, shimmies back and forth in celebration.
It was the start of a 5-for-5 night on Wednesday for Sanchez, the No. 6 overall prospect in the Miami Marlins’ organization according to MLB Pipeline who has gotten off to a torrid start to the minor-league season with the Triple A Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp.
It was also a return to the Jesus Sanchez the Marlins had come to know when they acquired him from the Tampa Bay Rays at the July 2019 trade deadline, the happy-go-lucky, easygoing, upbeat outfielder with a knack for making solid contact and playing steady defense.
In the simplest terms: He’s having fun playing baseball again, something he admitted got away from him when he struggled during his first MLB stint in 2020 and in the early going of his time back in the Dominican Republic playing winter ball this offseason.
“I wasn’t enjoying the game,” said Sanchez, who went just 1 for 25 with four walks and 11 strikeouts in his 10 games with the Marlins last season. “The same thing that happened [during my first MLB season] was happening there.”
“It’s just a great feeling,” he continued, “to have Jesus Sanchez back.”
Six games into the minor-league season, Sanchez certainly looks like his former self. The 23-year-old left-handed-hitting outfielder leads Triple A with a 1.646 on-base-plus-slugging mark and 12 RBI. He already has three home runs, two triples, a double and six runs scored as well while producing five multi-hit games and sporting a .556 batting average.
“He’s got power, and he uses the whole field,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said on Saturday. “I felt like last year was probably a little bit of an eye-opener for him to come here and kind of got [beat up] a little bit. There was good and bad in that. There were some really good at-bats early on, and then like no hits and all of a sudden you felt the wave just kind of turn on him and he kind of felt like he just got overwhelmed a little bit, the snow ball got rolling and he couldn’t stop it.”
From Sanchez’s perspective, his internal expectations got the better of him when he got the news of a lifetime last year. Making his MLB debut on Aug. 21 against the Washington Nationals was a “very rewarding experience and feeling” after five years in the minor leagues.
“Actually seeing my dream come true of being on a major-league field,” Sanchez said, “that was truly a blessing.”
The struggles that came with it might have been a blessing in disguise. While his first big-league stint only lasted 10 games, Sanchez now understands what it takes both physically and mentally to be an everyday player at the MLB level.
He’s getting time at Triple A to get the final round of polishing in his game before getting another crack at the big leagues. The Marlins’ outfield depth at the MLB level, which includes Starling Marte, Adam Duvall, Corey Dickerson, Lewis Brinson, Magneuris Sierra and Garrett Cooper, makes it possible for the Marlins to not have to rush Sanchez or any of their other top outfielder prospects into action.
“I guess, you know, as humans, we tend to to act differently when we have plans in our hands and we think that things are going to go this way and it doesn’t happen, we tend to lose a little bit of control,” Sanchez said. “I lost a little self-esteem and even a little bit of happiness, too. Things weren’t going the way I wanted them to go, so I let that affect me. Now I understand that, and I’m ready to not let any of that affect me in the future, and I can control that.”
Sanchez’s primary focus with the minor-league season underway is improving his hitting, which he considers his strongest tool.
His approach to get that done?
“Stay calm,” Sanchez said, “and hit the ball.”
Having fun is helping, too.
Breaking down 2020 draft picks’ pro debuts
All five of the Marlins’ 2020 draft picks still in the organization, a quintet of pitchers ranked among the club’s top-30 prospects, made their professional debuts last week. A rundown of each player’s first career starts.
▪ First-round pick Max Meyer (Double A): Five scoreless innings, one hit and one walk allowed, five strikeouts, 65 pitches (42 strikes).
Meyer, the Marlins’ third-ranked prospect, had a no hitter through 4 2/3 innings for the Double A Pensacola Blue Wahoos before giving up a single to the Mississippi Braves’ Jefrey Ramos. The only other baserunner he allowed was walk to Greyson Jenista to lead off the third inning, which was erased by a double play.
Meyer’s slider, considered the best pitch of any pitcher in the 2020 MLB Draft, sat between 86 and 90 mph and resulted in his first three strikeouts (all swinging). His four-seam fastball sat between 93 and 97 mph. His final pitch was a 96 mph fastball that Jenista looked at for a called Strike 3 to end the fifth.
Meyer was on a pitch limit for his first start — either five innings or 75 pitches, whichever came first.
▪ Second-round pick Dax Fulton (Class A): Three innings pitched, three earned runs allowed on four hits and two walks, two strikeouts, 68 pitches (36 strikes).
All three runs allowed came in a second inning in which Fulton gave up two hits, two four-pitch walks, had two wild pitches and struck out two (both with his curveball).
This was Fulton’s first live game since undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2019. He’s ranked as the Marlins’ No. 9 prospect.
▪ Competitive balance pick Kyle Nicolas (Class A Advanced): Five innings, one earned run allowed on one hit and four walks, eight strikeouts, 80 pitches (52 strikes).
Nicolas, a right-handed pitcher out of Ball State, struggled with command at times in his first start for the Beloit Snappers but didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning of his professional debut. A leadoff walk in the sixth inning ended his start.
Nicolas, ranked as the Marlins’ No. 17 overall prospect, has a fastball that sits in the mid 90s and a slider as his main secondary pitch.
▪ Third-round pick Zach McCambley (Class A Advanced): Four innings, two earned runs on four hits and two walks, seven strikeouts, 87 pitches (55 strikes)
McCambley, the Marlins’ No. 23 overall prospect drafted out of Coastal Carolina, gave up back-to-back hits to start his pro career before retiring nine of the next 11 batters he faced, five via strikeout. He worked around a bases-loaded, no-outs situation in the fourth by striking out two batters and forcing an inning-ending flyout. His start ended after the first two batters he faced in the fifth inning reached base via a double and fielding error, with the bullpen allowing one of the two inherited runners to score.
▪ Fourth-round pick Jake Eder (Double A): Five scoreless innings, one hit and three walks allowed, 12 strikeouts, 88 pitches (55 strikes).
It may have been hard to think someone would top Meyer’s debut, but Eder certainly made the case. The former Vanderbilt standout with a mid-90s fastball and above-average curveball began the game with a four-strikeout first inning — the second batter he faced reached base on a dropped Strike 3 — and he recorded multiple strikeouts in four of his five innings. He didn’t give up a hit until the fifth inning.
Eder is ranked as the Marlins’ No. 24 overall prospect.
More Marlins minor-league highlights
▪ Triple A Jacksonville: First baseman Lewin Diaz (No. 5) hit three home runs through the first six games and is tied for third in the Triple A East with 10 RBI to go along with his .308 batting average and 1.110 OPS. Equally as impressive: Diaz has struck out just once in 29 plate appearances.
Catcher Brian Navarreto, who had a brief MLB stint with the Marlins last year, has two home runs and is hitting .353 with five RBI after four games.
Right-handed pitcher Cody Poteet, the Marlins’ fourth-round pick in 2015, impressed in his first start this season (5 2/3 innings pitched, three hits and one earned run allowed, 10 strikeouts). He is a player the organization is watching closely.
▪ Double A Pensacola: Outfielder JJ Bleday (No. 2) is only hitting .200 so far (4 for 20, two runs, two RBI, seven strikeouts), but has drawn five walks in 25 plate appearances. Defensively, while he profiles as a future everyday right fielder, Bleday has gotten reps at all three outfield spots during the first week of the season.
Fellow outfielders Peyton Burdick (No. 12) and Jerar Encarnacion (No. 21) each hit their first home runs of the season, while first baseman Lazaro Alonso has been the steady standout at the plate with a 1.075 OPS and six RBI.
▪ Class A Advanced Beloit: Outfielder Connor Scott (No. 16) already has a pair of three-hit games this season and has scored six runs.
▪ Class A Jupiter: Infielder Osiris Johnson (No. 30), who hasn’t played in a live game since the 2018 minor-league season, hit two home runs in the first week of the 2021 season.
Outfielder Victor Mesa Jr. (No. 11) has a .313 batting average and six RBI through four games.
Middle infielder Nasim Nunez (No. 13) is only hitting .176 (3 for 17) but has drawn seven walks, stolen six bases and scored six runs in five games for the Hammerheads.