Sanchez versus Syndergaard: Prospect Showdown

By December it became clear Sandy Alderson would trade R.A. Dickey before his Cy Young Award could collect a spec of dust. The only questions remaining were where the knuckleballer would land and who the Mets would receive in return.

It came as little surprise that Alex Anthopoulos was lurking — fresh off acquiring much Miami’s talent less than a month earlier. It was certain the Mets would require Travis d’Arnaud to make a deal, but would they demand another player, too? Noah Syndergaard and Aaron Sanchez vaulted up prospect lists this season as pitchers in the Lansing Lugnuts’ rotation, and their success created a divide among analysts. Syndergaard or Sanchez? Sanchez or Syndergaard? Who was atop Alderson’s list? Was Anthopoulous correct when he deemed Sanchez “untouchable?”

Sanchez is listed at 6-foot-4 and 190 pounds and is a lean, projectable right-handed pitcher. Out of the windup, his tempo is more deliberate than one would expect for a 20-year-old starter who sits in the mid-90s with his fastball. Despite above-average athleticism and good body control, Sanchez has trouble finding a consistent release point. Part of Sanchez’s issues stem from his long legs. After raising his left knee to his hands and beginning to uncoil towards to the plate, he employs a small kick toward the batter.

This movement is inconsistent and he often finds his plant foot landing at a different place each time. When he plants early, his fastball — which normally has good sink and arm side run — flattens out and sails high in the zone. While control has hindered Sanchez, he has an elite ceiling due to featuring three of the minor leagues’ best pitches. In addition to his fastball, Sanchez has a devastating change-up that runs away from left-handed hitters. His change-up came into the season as his third offering but now rivals his 12-6 curveball as his best pitch. The curve is also a true out-pitch that features tight rotation and no visible hump. Like all curveballs, it can be inconsistent, but it’s already a plus-offering.

Syndergaard is also a projectable right-hander. He stands an inch taller and is more physically developed than Sanchez, especially in the upper half. Interestingly, he is also slow to the plate out of the windup and from the stretch. Due to his size and high three-quarter delivery, Syndergaard’s fastball is thrown on a steep downward plane with moderate sinking action. While he is subject to youthful inconsistency, Syndergaard has good command of the pitch and pounds the bottom of the strike zone.

Due to these attributes, it’s easy to project the 20-year-old to be a ground-ball machine at higher levels. He couples his fastball with an above-average-or-better change-up that features both sink and fade. The two pitches complement each other, and inexperienced Midwest League hitters were rarely able to adjust to his change after sitting on the fastball. Syndergaard’s third pitch is an underdeveloped curveball. Currently, the offering is a looping 12-6 curve that needs to be tightened significantly and thrown consistently before it is considered even an average pitch.

Choosing Sanchez or Syndergaard comes down to whether one think Sanchez can rein in his command or Syndergaard can develop a third pitch. Both have the aptitude to make changes. Sanchez has the athleticism, body control and repeatable delivery coaches look for when gauging whether a pitcher can harness his command. It’s more difficult to determine whether Syndergaard can develop a curveball, which is tied to a skillset he’s yet to showcase: consistent tight rotation due to wrist pronation and tensile strength.

But there are other pitches he can develop should his curveball’s development plateau. Most importantly, Syndergaard already has an above-average change-up to keep left-handed hitters — and his platoon splits — in check. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Mets had Syndergaard develop a slider, too, as that tends to be their breaking ball of choice.

Both pitchers will be in the Florida State League (High-A) this season with an outside change at reaching the Eastern League (Double-A) before the season ends. A lot will happen in the two or three years before their debuts, but if each develops as I expect, Sanchez has a higher ceiling as an ace. Syndergaard, on the other hand, is realistically a second or a third starter. With that said, I am more confident that Syndergaard can complement his fastball and change up with a third offering than I am in Sanchez’s command profile. If I had to pick one of them to start a playoff game for me today, it would be Syndergaard. But talent like Sanchez’s is rare.




Print This Post



Formerly of Bullpen Banter, JD can be followed on Twitter.


43 Responses to “Sanchez versus Syndergaard: Prospect Showdown”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Nick says:

    I’m not impressed with Syndergaard’s breaking ball while Sanchez could have both a plus curveball and a plus changeup. Syndergaard does have better control, but his lack of a good breaking pitch gives him similar risk as Sanchez to reach their ceiling. Since Sanchez has the higher ceiling and equal risk for both, I’d take Sanchez.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • dovif says:

      There are significant amount of fail prospects that have 3 plus pitches, but never made it pass A or AA. If Syndergaard does not get a 3rd pitch, his stuff and command will make him a useful reliever. The risk of Sanchez is much higher then Syndergaard

      If everything breaks right for both of them, Sanchez is a No 1 and Syndergaard is a No 2. The floor for Syndergaard (no injurys and expected improvement) is ML reliever, the floor for Sanchez is AA.

      High risk high reward, some players never get command, while 2 good pitches makes a good reliever

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • nbrown says:

      senior scouts say synderquard should be better then matt harvey,nuff said

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • K says:

      as a jays fan i liked noah more but as a GM i would take sanchez every day of the week because of his ceiling. exactly how the jays drafted since AA has come in, high risk high reward type guys.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Chris Jones says:

        “exactly how the jays drafted since AA has come in, high risk high reward type guys.”

        Like Deck McGuire?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Ike says:

          Deck was drafted as he was deemed one of the top college pitchers and one that was closest to MLB ready. The Jays had an immediate need and unfortunately drafted him due to that.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Marcus Tullius Cicero says:

    Good thing the Mets aren’t going to have to worry about picking either of them to start a playoff game for some time now.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • K says:

      you mean harvey and nolan right? sounds like you are saying nolan and sanchez but the mets only have nolan.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. wrong em says:

    I try not to be the language police guy too often, but it’s “rein in” (as in the reins of a horse), not “reign in.” It’s not just the author of this article; I see this on blogs, etc. ALL the time.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Yo says:

      Agreed. Also maybe it’s just an idiom I don’t know, but what does this mean?

      his tempo is more demonstrative

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • jonkk says:

      Okay, I guess I’ll pile on. “…he often finds his plant foot landing at a different place each time.” It’s either often or each time, it can’t be both. Appreciated the article though!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Patrick says:

        I’m prety sure it can be both. It’s pretty clear the intent of the writer is that there are periods of time, where on each pitch his foot lands in a different place.

        That would be different than either of the alteratives you sugested.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. MLB Rainmaker says:
    FanGraphs Supporting Member

    My money’s on Noah, he’s got velocity with a smooth easy release and I’ll take a solid change up over a breaking pitch anyday. Plus control problems at the low minors is a cause for concern, and Sanchez has a career BB/9 around 5 — and its only going to get more difficult as he moves up the ranks.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • shirtless guy says:

      Its not about taking a solid change-up over a breaking pitch, its that he needs a useable third pitch regardless. Another former-Jay had a similar profile to Syndergaard (at present). Big fastball with a ton of downward movement, good changeup, good control, no breaking pitch. He was Henderson Alavarez, and he got pummeled. There’s still plenty of time for him to turn it around, as there is for Syndergaard to develop a breaking pitch, but don’t fool yourself into thinking what he has now is enough

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • vivalajeter says:

        To me, it really depends on his command. Does he have good command, very good command, or elite command? If it’s close to elite, then he can do well with a plus fastball, plus changeup, and plus command.

        When Santana came to the Mets, he only threw his slider about 10% of the time and he was terrific. Greg Maddux threw his fastball and changeup nearly 95% of the time, and he was one of the greatest pitchers of all-time. Not that Syndergaard is nearly in that category, but if you have 2 elite pitches with elite command then a third pitch isn’t always necessary.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • shirtless guy says:

          I feel pretty safe in pegging the chances of Syndergaard developing an 80 grade changeup like Santana or elite command like Maddux at 0%. In fact I’m pretty sure you said as much, so I’m not sure why its relevant in the context of this particular player. He definitely needs a usable third pitch

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Nick says:

          He definitely does not have elite command. Pitchers like Syndergaard often can sustain very low BB rates in the minors as command isn’t quite as important and then have to improve their command raising their BB rate.

          Also, Syndergaard’s changeup is a 55 maybe a 60. Santana’s is at least a 75. Maddux had legitimate 80 control/command plus a very good two-seamer to mix in with his four-seamer as well as good breaking stuff (even if he didn’t use them a ton). To me, Syndergaard with even an average breaking ball is a #3. Chance to become a #2 if he can develop a plus breaking ball.

          Sanchez has already shown at least plus potential on both his changeup and curveball. If his control/command can improve a little, he can easily become a #3. With plus control/command he could become an ace. Syndergaard doesn’t have a realistic ceiling of an ace.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • JD Sussman says:

          Nick, based on that comment, you’re overstanding Sanchez’s command. It needs significant improvement before he could justify being labeled a three.

          Thanks for all the comments, guys.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • dovif says:

          nick

          If Sanchaz improve his command a little, ie BB from 5 to 4, he would not make it pass AA. Sanchaz need significant improvement on his command, his ceiling is likely a no 1 if he improve his command significantly, but there are significant number of prospects with 3 plus pitches that cannot get pass AA, because they cannot control their pitches

          While Syndergaard’s ceiling is lower (no2/3), if he just progress normally and never developes a third pitch, his floor is likely a big league reliever, or a no 5.

          So it really is a low(er) Ceiling, lower reward vs a higher ceiling but higher chances of it never developing

          Vote -1 Vote +1

      • MLB Rainmaker says:

        First of all, this is a “versus” — if you don’t agree, make a case for Garcia.

        Second, Alvarez never had a k/9 above 7, Noah’s average is above 9. They may throw the same pitches, but completely different “stuff”. Alvarez has more of the weak grounder (a la Kyle Lohse) type change, where Noah’s is of the swing and miss variety.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • shirtless guy says:

          Make a case for Garcia? The other pitcher being profiled here is Sanchez, so it would be a little hard for me to do that

          The point was, even if they’re both strong, its hard to be an elite pitcher at the major league level with just two pitches. Why don’t you go ahead and name some of the current starters who have had sustained success without at least an average breaking ball? And just fyi, Kyle Lohse’s changeup generates whiffs 16% of the time, so if you’re arguing Henderson’s isn’t a swing and miss offering, I’m not sure why you’d offer him up as a comp

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Hotchipwillbreakyourlegs says:

    Good stuff. All disclaimers about pitching prospects aside, I’m drooling over Harvey, wheeler, syndergaaaard

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. TtD says:

    Hate to be picky but the Jays had Syndergaard working on a slider the 2nd half of last season, and it was getting good reviews towards the end of the year, though still a little inconsistant. Already been a suggestion it flashes average to plus on good days, or at least that was the news out of instructs. It’s a question of if he builds consistancy with the pitch.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Nick says:

      News out of instructs is always positive and almost always exaggerated. I haven’t heard any reports that weren’t made by the Blue Jays organization that claimed he had a better than average breaking ball. We’ll need to see him this season to get a better feel for it, but I do think there is a solid chance he can develop an average breaking ball. Until I actually see him at least flash better than average breaking ball, it’s very hard to predict it as a potential plus pitch.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Jon C says:

    With the two pitches Syndegaard currently has (FB and change), and assuming ordinary development of command, etc., but no average third pitch — what would Syndegaard’s floor be? Would his repertoire be enough to survive as a back-end rotation guy, would he succeed in relief, or would he even make the Majors at all?

    Same for Sanchez — can he make the bigs at all without more consistent command?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. El Vigilante says:

    “Sanchez has trouble finding a consistent release point…he employs a small kick toward the batter. This movement is inconsistent and he often finds his plant foot landing at a different place each time”

    “Sanchez has the athleticism, body control and repeatable delivery coaches look for when gauging whether a pitcher can harness his command”

    How do you reconcile the first description with the second?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • JD Sussman says:

      Sure! First the comment is a specific critique of Sanchez and what causes his struggles. He has trouble finding a consistent release point due to inconsistent landing. The second is about his delivery in general and it would be nitpicking to say the first issue entirely undermines what is generally a repeatable, sound delivery. No one repeats their delivery perfectly every single time.

      Make sense?? I understand how that could be confusing. Thanks for the comment.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. balticfox1917 says:

    After reading this interesting piece, I’m reminded about what Jim Palmer–HOF pitcher and color commentator on Orioles broadcasts–had to say about Jake Arrieta.
    Palmer said that you don’t need 4 pitches to succeed in the bigs, you need to have command of your best pitches. Regarding Arrieta, he pointed out that he needlessly fell behind the count against batters because he continued to try and throw pitches (slider and a change up)of which he had little or no command.
    Palmer said that he never mastered the changeup, so during his illustrious career he stuck to throwing fastballs and curveballs, with an occasional slider thrown in. Of course, Palmer had an elite fastball and curveball, so the comparison may not be valid, but if Syndergaard has already mastered two pitches, that’s a huge step towards being a successful big leaguer.

    This debate has gone on for decades: do you want the pitcher with the higher ceiling, or the pitcher who is more polished at the same age?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Kevin says:

    for what its worth, KLaw has always preferred sanchez. his opinion seems to be that the curveball is extremely difficult to learn, and sanchez has the arm/wrist action in spades, whereas syndergaard does not. for myself, i’d be suspicious of syndergaard’s very low BB%. with an overpowering fastball and good changeup, he may not have to be very precise to get A-ballers out.

    neither pitcher is a lock, but if you like upside, sanchez is your guy. both would profile as back end relievers as their floors from the sounds of it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Frank Campagnola says:

      As someone who mostly lived fastball/changeup throughout high school, I can attest to the statement that the curveball is difficult to learn. The curve is all about feel, and it’s very difficult to get comfortable and consistent with it. These guys are professionals and still have trouble doing it.

      I think it stems from the fact that the fastball and changeup are supposed to be thrown from the same arm slot and have the same arm speed. The curveball is just very different from those two, especially with the way you finish your delivery. Fastball/changeup ends up with palm down, while the curve ends with palm up after your twisting motion.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • vivalajeter says:

      I like reading KLaw’s articles and chats, but something seems off about his ranking of Syndergaard. Every other source considers him a top prospect, but I think he barely made KLaw’s top-100. Maybe KLaw knows more than everyone else, but it seems fishy that he gave Syndergaard a good write-up and then ranked him in the 90’s.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • ssj316 says:

        KLaw’s mindset is basically this: in 2 years of pro-ball, Syndergaard hasn’t developed a feel for a good breaking ball. Unless he has plus-plus command (which he doesn’t), 2-pitch pitchers generally don’t make it as SPs. And KLaw hardly ever considers prospects who project as relief pitchers to be of any real value.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Al Skorupa says:

          I think some people in this comments section are trying a little hard to quantify things… though I supposed that’s the nature of the site in some ways. I don’t think it’s helpful to discuss this in absolutes like that. For example, this Kershaw guy is basically a two pitch pitcher (CU < 4% of the time) and he's been ok.

          http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=2036&position=P

          I don't think we want to argue Kershaw has plus-plus command either. He was pretty much all over the place but effectively wild when he first reached the majors. He has improved significantly, but I don't know anyone describing his command and control as plus-plus.

          You do fairly often come across LHPs with FB-CU and weak breaking balls who find success. Its a little more rare in RHPs like Syndergaard, but then these types don't typically have plus-plus velocity.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • ssj316 says:

          Well, I was really only answering the question of why KLaw ranks him so low. Those are his views, not necessarily mine. But to offer a response in the interests of discussion…

          You already made the point between RHP and LHP, so there’s that. It’s a significant enough point that you can’t just say, “LHPs can sometimes do it” and have it mean too much for RHPs. There are a lot more RHPs who can’t cut it with FB/CH combos, even when they have plus velocity.

          If we’re looking at Kershaw, even if you take out his left-handed factor, there’s a big difference between having a 2-pitch combo of Fastball/Change-up and a Fastball/Breaking-ball.

          All this is not to say that Syndergaard is necessarily doomed to fail, but these are prospect rankings. The attrition rate of prospects is already super high. Being a RHP with no breaking ball simply doesn’t project particularly well. If he has success in the majors as a SP, then great, best of luck to him. But prospect rankings are dealing entirely with projections, so while KLaw isn’t saying that Syndergaard is doomed to fail, he’s just saying that there are 90-odd other prospects that have a higher chance of success.

          Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Phil says:

    One view I have heard on Sanchez is that his pitches have so much late life the umps at lower levels struggle, leading to him getting behind on counts. This may just be Jays spin though, as otherwise wouldn’t this be an issue for more young pitchers with premium stuff?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Atomic Frog says:

    TOR GM AA is all about potential, ceiling, being athletic etc when it comes to evaluating talent. He keeps Sanchez over Syndegaard mainly because of these reasons.

    Prospecting is a crapshoot, AA is just taking the high risk/high reward road here.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Kenji Jays says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGKKBt8hqMw
    Apprently, Sanchez has a big issue on his command. I doubt Sanchez’s command will be better because his command doesn’t improve so much when he was drafted.(his BB/9 is still awful) Surely he has potential, however considering his bad command, he will be reliever.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. rerun says:

    “It came as little surprise that Alex Anthopoulos was lurking — fresh off acquiring much Miami’s talent less than a month earlier.” Between “much” and “miami” you left out “of.” Just want everything to be perfect.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Steve says:

    For what it’s worth, Snydergaard has shot up to 6’7″ now

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Patricia Patrickheart says:

    For what it’s worth, Syndergaard has shot three people who probably deserved it and has himself shot up to 7’3″.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Noah says:

    Looks like Syndergaard’s curveball was hardly “below average” and “non-existent”. Hindsight is very helpful, luckily Alderson is Nostradamous when it comes to predicting the futures of young pitching prospects.

    Vote -1 Vote +1