MLB.com Columnist

Fred Zinkie

Sanchez has passed early tests for Blue Jays

Righty must continue handling left-handed hitters to excel in rotation

Sanchez has passed early tests for Blue Jays

Want to win a competitive fantasy league? Then you'll need to find multiple sleeper starting pitchers. And so far, Blue Jays right-hander Aaron Sanchez is looking like quite an asset for wise fantasy owners who snagged him.

Since the beginning of Spring Training, few starters have risen up the 2016 rankings to the same degree as the Toronto youngster.

Sanchez produced a 3.55 ERA across 11 starts last season, but inconsistent control (5.0 BB/9 rate) and a disabled-list stint due to a right lat strain caused the Blue Jays to reassign the talented youngster to the relief corps. The righty excelled as a reliever (2.39 ERA, 0.87 WHIP), but he was determined to shed his bullpen responsibilities as quickly as possible.

With designs on being a more consistent pitcher who could better withstand a heavy workload, the 23-year-old spent the offseason intensely training with teammate Marcus Stroman, and he gained approximately 25 pounds.

Fast forward to 2016. Sanchez arrived in Dunedin, Fla., with one goal in mind -- to leave no doubt that he deserved a rotation spot.

After reporting to Spring Training with a noticeably thicker frame, Sanchez realized his goal to rejoin the rotation by logging a 1.35 ERA, a 0.90 WHIP and a 19-to-3 strikeout-to-walk rate across 20 innings in Grapefruit League action.

Sanchez on being a starter

Fantasy owners have been quick to pick up the 2010 first-round MLB Draft pick, but Sanchez still has a significant hurdle to overcome before he can become a mixed-league rotation regular: left-handed hitters.

Lefty batters dominated Sanchez across the 2014-15 seasons, posting an .801 OPS against him (.397 OPS allowed to righty batters). Until he proves that he can level his lopsided splits, the right-hander is doomed to face a steady stream of opposite-sided batters.

But that endeavor has gone well so far.

Sanchez mostly handled Tampa Bay's left-handed hitters in his first start of the year, holding them to two hits in 13 at-bats (.154 average) -- albeit with a homer allowed to lefty swinger Corey Dickerson -- across seven innings of one-run ball.

The overall success of his Week 1 outing prompted many Sanchez owners to plug him into the active lineup for a tough Week 2 tilt against the Yankees. New York manager Joe Girardi threw a stiff test at Sanchez, drawing up a lineup with seven hitters slated to bat from the left side.

Overall, the youngster passed this test against a veteran-laden lineup, allowing two runs (one earned) across his six innings of work and limiting Yanks left-handed batters to a .188 average (3-for-16) with three walks and four whiffs. The damage came after Sanchez walked a pair of lefty batters in the second inning, and when left-handed-hitting catcher Brian McCann took him deep for a solo shot in the sixth frame.

Sanchez's effective outing

Based on his strong Spring Training results and outstanding early-season work, Sanchez has done more than enough to earn his way into almost all mixed-league lineups. Though stamina questions will need to be answered later in the season, he has shown that he is quickly trending in the right direction against left-handed-hitting foes.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.