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Should Sixto Sanchez still be an untouchable Phillies prospect?

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Sixto Sanchez will not pitch in the Arizona Fall League after suffering a setback in his off-season routine.

Sixto Sanchez
Courtesy of Brandon Apter @bapter23

The Phillies farm system isn’t what it used to be.

Heading into the 2017 season, the Phils had a top-10 farm system, but over the course of that season, a large number of those prospects graduated to the Majors. The system took another hit before the 2018 season as well as even more of those prospects became big leaguers.

Now, it’s a system that resides in the lower half of the league, but hey, that’s what happens when you put so many of your prospects on the big league ballclub. But the player at the top of the Phils’ farm system is still the same one that has been there for the better part of two years.

Sixto Sanchez.

Heading into last season, Baseball America ranked Sanchez as the No. 25 prospect in the minors, with MLB.com ranking him No. 26 and Baseball Prospectus the highest on Sanchez, putting him at No. 13. Now 20 years old, the Dominican right-hander features a high-90s fastball that can hit triple digits with ease, with a change-up and curve that he commands better than you would expect from a player who just finished his age-19 season.

Sanchez has ace potential. He’s been compared to Pedro Martinez. He has a chance to be one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball, potentially as soon as next year, but more likely in 2020. He has been untouchable in trade talks, and it’s easy to understand why. The talent is off-the-charts.

But is it time to start worrying about Sanchez a little? And should those worries no longer make him an untouchable?

After making 18 starts and throwing 95.0 innings as an 18 year-old for Lakewood and Clearwater (with a 3.03 ERA and a WHIP of 0.958), he made only 8 starts a year ago for the Threshers. No doubt, he was very effective in those 8 starts (46.2 innings) with a 2.51 ERA and 45 strikeouts, before he was shut down for the season with an elbow injury.

The hope was Sanchez would be able to recoup some of those lost innings in the Arizona Fall League coming up soon, but NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury reports the team has decided not to send him to the AFL after a recent setback in his recovery from that elbow injury.

Sanchez was firmly on the road to recovery and getting work in the Florida Instructional League when he recently came down with soreness in his right collarbone. Team medical officials are not alarmed by the issue and they are confident that Sanchez will be fully healthy and ready to go for spring training. However, the setback cut into Sanchez’s preparation time in Florida so the team has decided to err on the side of caution and hold him out of the AFL. The prospect-studded league opens play Tuesday and runs through Nov. 17. Sanchez had been slated to pitch for the Scottsdale Scorpions.

The team does not believe Sanchez’ elbow issue requires surgery, and they don’t appear overly concerned about this latest “setback.”

Obviously, the team has better medical information than I do on the nature of Sanchez’ physical issues, so I won’t presume to know more than them. It sounds like the team’s decision to withhold him from the AFL is being done out of an abundance of caution and that the team expects him to be fully healthy and ready next season. It’s also fair to note the Phillies made all the right calls with Aaron Nola when he was dealing with his elbow problem in the middle of 2016, so there are far more reasons to be optimistic than anything else.

Still, it’s at least worth considering whether the team should be more open to the idea of dealing Sanchez this off-season given his abbreviated 2018 season and recent setback.

The Phillies should not be “looking” to trade Sixto this winter. That would be foolish. There is still a great chance that he becomes one of the best young pitchers in the game, and certainly the franchise would be kicking themselves if they dealt him away for a less-than-stellar return. Imagine what would have happened had the Phils traded Nola after that 2016 season. That would have been the kind of decision that gets a GM fired.

And all pitching prospects are risks. All pitchers who throw hard are risks. There isn’t a single one who doesn’t possess the potential to explode before our eyes. The hope is that you can spot the explosion just before the lit match touches the box of oily rags.

The Phils need to develop pitchers and, in Sixto, they are trying to develop a potential ace, a very rare commodity in today’s game.

However, while I think Sanchez should still be considered a mostly untouchable prospect, I wouldn’t make him completely untouchable anymore.

They should not deal him for a rental, and they should not deal him for anything less than a star player under team control for multiple years. And there may not be any trades like that that materialize this winter. There’s likely no Christian Yelich that will come knocking on the Phils’ door. There may not be a scenario, other than a Mike Trout trade, where it makes sense to deal the 20-year-old hurler.

Still, the Phillies should at least be open-minded about the possibility of including him in a deal if it makes sense, because as we’ve seen over and over and over again, pitching prospects are fragile and Sanchez’ trade value would take a big hit if he gets hurt again next year.