Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez ranked No. 1 in South Atlantic League

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Ben Lively #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against Marcus Semien #10 of the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at Citizens Bank Park on September 16, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 16: Ben Lively #49 of the Philadelphia Phillies pitches against Marcus Semien #10 of the Oakland Athletics during the third inning at Citizens Bank Park on September 16, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images) /
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Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez had a tremendous full-season debut in the South Atlantic League. Baseball America ranked him as the best prospect in the SAL.

Baseball America released their rankings for the South Atlantic League, the league in which the Phillies Low-A affiliate, the Lakewood BlueClaws, play. Atop those rankings was Philadelphia’s 19-year-old phenom pitching prospect, Sixto Sanchez.

Sanchez made his full-season debut this year after pitching in the Dominican Summer League in 2015 and the Gulf Coast League in 2016. Last year Sanchez rocketed up prospect rankings after a tremendous season where he allowed just three earned runs in 54 innings.

This year in the SAL, Sanchez’s success only continued. In 13 starts where his pitch count was limited, Sanchez posted a 2.41 ERA, 2.35 fielding-independent pitching, 7.11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and 0.82 WHIP. In that span he allowed just one home run and induced a 48.3 percent ground-ball rate.

BA’s J.J. Cooper wrote up each of the prospects on the list, saying the following about Sanchez:

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"The Phillies didn’t want to stretch Sanchez out too much in 2017. He was kept on a tight pitch limit while in Lakewood–he never topped 80 pitches and usually was held to between 65-75. But he still managed to go five or more innings nearly every time out because of how efficient he was.Sanchez is the rare 18-year-old who combines exceptional stuff (95-100 mph fastball) and advanced control.His command in the zone continues to improve, but his ability to throw strikes is already above-average. Shorter pitchers (Sanchez is 6-foot) often have a problem with home runs because their fastball lacks plane. It’s not been an issue for Sanchez, as he’s allowed one home run in three pro seasons.Sanchez’s curveball, slider and changeup all show flashes of being above-average pitches, but none of the trio is yet there. That’s about the biggest complaint anyone lodged against one of baseball’s best young pitching prospects. His combination of stuff and control makes him much more advanced than the average teenager."

In the accompanying chat room, a subscriber asked about Sanchez’s strikeout ability in the future. Cooper expressed that he didn’t have much concern about it:

"SAL guy (MD): For a guy with top shelf stuff, Sixto seems like he does not miss a ton of bats. Could that develop? Or is he more of a weak contact high GB guy?J.J. Cooper: I’m not all that worried about that yet as his fastball is far ahead of his secondary stuff right now, but he’s very young. At his age, seeing a pitcher who can dominate by locating an exceptional fastball is a great base to build off."

Sanchez was not the only Phillie included on the list. Coming in at No. 10 overall was another pitcher, the 20-year-old Adonis Medina. Medina had a strong season as well, posting a 3.01 ERA and striking out 10 batters per nine innings in 22 starts.

Cooper also praised Medina’s strong season as well as his effective arsenal:

"The Phillies had a very deep Lakewood rotation last year, but it was even deeper this year thanks to Sanchez, Medina, JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez. Medina took the biggest step forward of that group as he refined his breaking ball, which helped his excellent fastball play even better.Medina’s fastball is a 93-97 mph monster with outstanding sink. His slider shows lots of promise. It needs more power, but it’s showing the potential to be an above-average pitch. He also throws a loopier, slower curveball and a promising changeup.But it’s Medina’s fastball that primarily carved up hitters in 2017. The 20-year-old finished third in the league with 133 strikeouts."

The final Phillie to make the list was last year’s No. 1 overall pick, outfielder Mickey Moniak. Unlike the other two Moniak did not have a strong year. In 123 games with the BlueClaws Moniak had a .236/.284/.341 line with five home runs and 11 stolen bases. In 509 plate appearances he struck out 109 times while walking just 28 times.

Moniak’s poor season was reflected in his ranking at No. 17 in the league. Cooper’s evaluation was down the middle of Moniak as he likes Moniak’s tools, but his performance obviously raises some questions:

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"Scouts had a hard time figuring out what to think of Moniak, which is understandable after the top pick in the 2016 draft hit .236/.284/.341, ranking him among the least-productive hitters in the league.That’s a concern because Moniak’s hit tool is vital to his potential, because he is less physical with less power projection than most top picks. Scouts generally graded his future power potential as either a 30 or 40 on the 20-80 scouting scale with his narrow shoulders likely limiting his ability to get significantly bigger and stronger.Moniak is a plus runner who should be able to stay in center field with a lot of work, but the consistency of his reads needs to improve. Despite his lofty defensive reputation as an amateur, some pro evaluators graded him as a below-average defender.But Moniak’s biggest improvement will have to come at the plate. Scouts like his swing and his quick hands, but he rarely drove the ball this year and hit a large number of easy-out ground balls. Scouts still see Moniak as a future big leaguer, but there’s much less confidence in him being an impact player."

One person in the chat asked Cooper if Moniak would wind up falling out of the BA Top 100 this winter, and Cooper certainly left the possibility open:

"Warren (New London): Is it safe to assume that Moniak and Rutherford will fall out of the BA top 100 after going 17 and 18 here?J.J. Cooper: Going to be some interesting discussions we’ll be having on those two. It was there first full seasons, but neither showed the impact with the bat scouts wanted to see. I’d say Rutherford’s struggles are a little more concerning in the long-term because he’s older than Moniak and he’s less likely to be able to play CF which means he’ll have more expectations placed on the bat. Next year is big for both of them."

Next: Phillies 2017 season grades: OF Aaron Altherr

It was great to see two of Philadelphia’s top pitching prospects higher up in this league’s rankings as both had strong seasons. However, Moniak’s tumbling down could be reflected in prospect rankings set to come out during the offseason.

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