Eduardo Sanchez came to the St Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent after strong play in the Dominican leagues. He was signed in 2005 and got his first taste of minor league baseball in 2007 with the Cardinals’ rookie leagues. He He appeared in seven games in the Gulf Coast League and showed his strikeout potential by seven batters in six innings of work. The Cardinals promoted him to their Johnson City affiliate, where he continued to put up solid numbers in small samples. He appeared in 15.1 innings and picked up five saves while striking out batters at a 12.91 K/9 rate. He finished the season with a 1.17 ERA with Johnson City.
Sanchez started 2008 with the Quad Cities River Bandits and appeared in 24 games, including five starts. His peripheral stats took a slight dive with more exposure, but he still showed strong results. He continued to put up strong strikeout numbers without allowing too many earned runs. The decision to stretch him did not work out, as the team realized he had far more potential as a back of the bullpen option.
Sanchez split 2009 between Palm Beach and Springfield and improved upon his 2008 numbers. At Palm Beach, he pitched 25 innings and notched three saves. His strikeout numbers improved by about 2/3 of a k/9, but he brought his ERA down from 2.86 in ’08 to 1.44. His performance earned him a promotion to Springfield, where he picked up ten more saves in 26 innings of work. His ERA regressed to 2.70, but his k/9 jumped above 10 for the first time since his rookie season.
Sanchez began 2010 at Springfield serving as the closer. He earned the save in eleven games appeared in 24 altogether. His k/9 and ERA both fell slightly, but improved his walk rate by almost a full walk. This earned him yet another promotion to the team’s AAA affiliate in Memphis, which put him one stop away from the majors. He appeared in 26 games and struck out guys at a 10.33 k/9 clip. His ERA improved to 1.67, so he showed that he could pitch effectively at the higher levels.
The team viewed Sanchez as their closer of the future, but he still saw some time in the minors in 2011. He continued to post strong numbers and earned a spot in the major league bullpen. While with the Cardinals, Sanchez pitched in 30 innings and actually had a short stint as the closer while Jason Motte showed some early season struggles. Sanchez ended the season with a 10.50 K/9 and a 1.80 ERA.
Unfortunately, 2012 was a huge step backward for the reliever. He struggled mightily while with the major league team, pitching to a 6.60 ERA and regressing heavily on his k/9, falling to 7.80. He didn’t fare much better at Memphis, as his ERA was 5.86. Sanchez is by no means a lost cause, but his road back to the majors is a little rockier than expected.
Sanchez still has the strike out potential and moxie to be considered a back end of the bullpen prospect. His stock definitely fell this season, though. I don’t see any way he makes anyone’s top ten prospect list for the Cardinals next year, and may fall out of most top 15s. The upside is still there, but the elite relief pitching prospect tag has to be removed.