It can’t be comfortable for a major leaguer to know that he plays the same position as one of his team’s top prospects. Will the team trade him? Bench him? Or will they, to the incumbent’s joy, trade the prospect for an upgrade at another position? This feeling has to grow intensity for a player who just won the position. That appears to be the case for Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez. With only 31 plate appearances previously, he’s still a rookie this season, and he’s the Marlins’ starting first baseman. Yet even before the season began he carried an ominous label: placeholder.
The label wasn’t exactly an indictment of Sanchez, per se. Instead, it was a nod to the Marlins’ consensus No. 2 prospect, Logan Morrison. After missing two months last season it was unlikely that he’d break camp with the team, but he seemed like a prime candidate for a mid-season promotion. While Sanchez, who the Marinls drafted 18 rounds ahead of Morrison in 2005, would start the season at first, chances are he’d be displaced at some point. But while Morrison did get a promotion this year, it was from AA to AAA, and not the majors. Sanchez is a big reason for that.
Last night Sanchez went 3 for 3 and hit his 17th double of the season. That raises his season triple slash to .307/.377/.484, a .380 wOBA, one point behind team leader Hanley Ramirez. He’s walking in nearly 10 percent of his plate appearances and is hitting the ball on a line nearly 20 percent of the time. On top of that he’s playing solid defense at first base, a 1.3 UZR in 553 defensive innings. He has made the idea of promotion Morrison to the majors an absurd one. How could the Marlins justify moving one of their three best hitters?
This performance from Sanchez should not come as much of a surprise. A fourth round pick in 2005, he has raked at nearly every minor league level. The only time his SLG fell below .475 was in 2007 when he struggled, just a little, in the class-A Florida State League, not exactly a hitter-friendly league. He followed that up by posting a .411 wOBA the next year in AA, which bought him a cup of coffee later in the season. The next year, at AAA, he posted a .378 wOBA and again racked up a few major league at-bats. It was clearly time for him to take on a more prominent role, and he has responded in kind.
Despite his solid performance to date, Sanchez seemingly can’t shake that placeholder tag. On June 10, when Sanchez was hitting .269/.324/.425 through 146 PA, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus reiterated his position on Morrison, saying that perhaps it’s time for Sanchez to “pass the torch.” Since then Sanchez has gone on a tear, hitting .444/.483/.704 in his last 61 PA. That includes 24 hits, seven of which have gone for extra bases. At the same time, Morrison has adjusted well to his promotion. He has gone 14 for 39 with two doubles and a home run in his last 10 games.
This is, of course, a favorable situation for the Marlins. They have one player performing at the major league level, and a top prospect right on his tail. They do have a few options defensively, too. Sanchez has played third base in the minors as recently as last season, when he played 41 games there. It’s not certain, though, that he can play there passably in the majors. The team is also playing Morrison in left field four days a week. That sets up the ideal scenario, in which Logan, Cameron Maybin, and Mike Stanton roam the outfield, with Chris Coghlan moving to second. Dan Uggla has one year remaining of arbitration, and considering his salary, $7.8 million this season, it seems likely that the Marlins will trade him, whether at the deadline or in the off-season.
Keeping Sanchez at first, then, appears to be the best situation for the Marlins. His solid performance to date affords the Marlins the flexibility they need. Chances are they’d trade Uggla and move Coghlan at some point anyway. The difference is that with Sanchez at first and Morrison in left, the Marlins are better positioned offensively. They need a lot of things to break their way, but if they get just a little lucky they could be in a good spot for 2011.
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