Pittsburgh Pirates: Lolo Sanchez needs to bounce back

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Pirates have done a really good job of developing outfield talent in their minors.  They need one player to have a bounce-back season.

At one point, the Pittsburgh Pirates were producing a new high potential outfielder every year.  The team had a stretch where they had some of the top minor league outfield prospects in baseball.  This goes back to Andrew McCutchen, Jose Tabata, Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco, and most recently Austin Meadows.  These were some of the top prospects in baseball as they were working their way up the system.

Now, not all prospects turn out.  The team saw that with Jose Tabata.  Even with a player like Gregory Polanco, the team is still waiting for him to put it all together over a full season.  That is the thing with prospects, and especially outfield prospects.  They are always very athletic and projectable, but they don’t always pan out.

The team has another player just like that in the minors right now.  Lolo Sanchez was the breakout prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates system during the 2017 season.  After putting up a strong season, many expected him to start to develop into the team’s next top outfield prospect.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Lolo Sanchez in 2015 for a sizable bonus worth $450,000 out of the Dominican Republic.  With that, expectations were set somewhat high for him entering the organization. Sanchez is still relatively small weighing in around 170 pounds and standing at 5’11”, so there should be some room to fill into.  He throws and bats right-handed and his speed is considered to be his best tool.  With plus speed, his second best tool will likely be his defense along with top of the order capability.

Sanchez has played in parts of three seasons so far for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  In 2016, he played in the Dominican Summer League.  He played in 45 games and only hit for a batting average of .235, but did get on-base at a .359 clip.  The impressive thing is he only struck out 18 times (8.0 percent) while he walked 24 times.  He did this at just 17 years of age.

During his age 18 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates assigned Lolo Sanchez to their Gulf Coast League affiliate.  This was his best year as a professional and was his breakout season as a prospect.  Sanchez slashed .284/.359/.417 and had 17 extra base hits in 51 games.  He once again proved to be a really disciplined hitter, only striking out 19 times (9.0 percent).  Also, he once again walked more than he struck out, taking 21 free passes.  This breakout season quickly catapulted Sanchez in the Bucs’ top 10 prospects.  Also, it was just his 18-year-old season, and it put him in a really good position to eventually make a Top 100 list.

Instead, Sanchez came out and disappointed during the 2018 season.  He finally moved to full-season ball, playing in Low-A for the West Virginia Power. This is a big jump for prospects, especially ones who played the previous season in the GCL.  They go from playing around 50 games a season to over 100.  Sanchez played in 114 games and batted .243/.322/.328 with only 23 extra base hits.  Also, he struck out more than he walked for the first time, going up to 72 strikeouts (16 percent) with only 41 walks, though that’s still a solid ratio.

This was obviously a very disappointing way to follow up to his great 2017 campaign.  He has fallen out of all the Top 10 Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects lists.  Last year, he was inside Rum Bunter’s Top 10 and is likely ending up closer to 20 on this year’s list.  Still, he is just turning 20 at the beginning of April and has great tools.

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Could it have just been the transition to a higher level of competition with a player who is still maturing?  Hopefully, that is the case, and he gets back to showing the tools that made him a top 10 prospect.  The Bucs need to develop as much top talent as possible in the minors, and Sanchez showed he could eventually be that.