Mariners Analysis: Gaby Sanchez to Compete with Jesus Montero at 1B?

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Apr 17, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez (17) is greeted at home plate by right fielder Travis Snider (23) after Sanchez hit a solo home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 17, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez (17) is greeted at home plate by right fielder Travis Snider (23) after Sanchez hit a solo home run against the Milwaukee Brewers during the eighth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /
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Despite not appearing in a big league game since 2014, Gaby Sanchez has a realistic shot at cracking the Seattle Mariners opening day roster.

As many of you already know, the Seattle Mariners signed veteran first baseman Gaby Sanchez to a minor-league pact last week. The 32-year-old spent the 2015 season playing for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japan Pacific League.

Sanchez was met with a barren free agent market last winter, and opted to take his talents to the JPPL. The University of Miami alum fared miserably in Japan, registering a .226 batting average with 7 home runs and 18 RBI in 66 games. His .328 on base percentage was repeatable, but his .396 slugging percentage was subpar.

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Despite his recent struggles across the Pacific, Sanchez does have 7 seasons under his belt in the Major Leagues. Originally selected in the 4th round of the 2006 draft by the Miami Marlins, Sanchez reached the big league during the 2008 season.

The Miami, FL product had the look of a future star during his first two full seasons with the Marlins. He finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 after posting a .273 batting average with 19 home runs and 85 RBI across 151 games. Sanchez followed up his impressive debut campaign by representing the Fish at the 2011 All-Star Game.

Unfortunately, Sanchez’s success was short-lived. He got off to a miserable start in 2012, hitting just .202 through 55 games in Miami before being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Sanchez rebounded slightly with the Bucs, but was never able to truly recapture his stroke. Since his stellar 2011 season, Sanchez has hit .233 with 21 home runs and 99 RBI over the course of 364 games.

Sanchez is steady at first base, but he is an unspectacular defender. He has not tallied a positive defensive WAR since the 2012 season, and his -4.1 career mark is underwhelming. Sanchez does make the routine plays through, as demonstrated by his .995 fielding percentage in 7 seasons.

The Mariners did not sign Gaby Sanchez for no reason. They are expecting him to come into spring training and compete with Jesus Montero for the backup first base job. It should be an intriguing battle to watch this spring, as both players possess similar skill sets.

Aug 3, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero (63) in the dugout in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 3, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Seattle Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero (63) in the dugout in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Montero is a bit of an enigma. He was one of the most highly touted prospects in baseball with the New York Yankees, and he arrived in Seattle with huge expectations. Thus far Montero has failed to live up to the hype, hitting just .247 through four seasons in the Emerald City. Part of me loathes him, and yet I’m not quite ready to give up hope he can be a productive player. The physical tools have always been there, but Montero’s mental game has been inconsistent at best.

The 26-year-old tore the cover off the ball in the Pacific Coast Legaue with the Tacoma Rainiers in 2015, hitting .355 with 18 home runs and 85 RBI through 98 games. Montero was named an All-Star, and was more than deserving of his July call-up. However, his success at the AAA level did not translate to Seattle. Montero posted a .223/.250/.411 slash line through 116 plate appearances with the Mariners. He slugged 5 home runs and drove in 19 runs in 38 games.

Montero is a below average defender, but he showed some signs of improvement at first base in 2015. For his career, the Venezuela native has tallied -0.4 defensive WAR at first base. Montero matches Sanchez’s .995 career fielding percentage, but it is highly unlikely he will ever be better than average defensively.

Adam Lind is locked in as the Mariners everyday first baseman against right-handed pitching in 2016. Lind should be a big help to the M’s offense this season, but his numbers against southpaws are dismal. The Toronto Blue Jays preferred to platoon Lind to make up for his shortcomings versus left-handed pitching.

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I believe the Mariners are hoping to employ a similar strategy in 2016. Gaby Sanchez and Jesus Montero have both posted productive numbers against left-handers during their careers, but Montero’s .292 batting average edges Sanchez’s .291 by the narrowest of margins. However, Sanchez’s .382 career on base percentage versus southpaws blows away the .341 OBP Montero has registered.

Sanchez and Montero have similar deficiencies with the leather, but Jesus has far more upside with the bat. Also playing into Montego’s advantage is the fact that he is out of minor-league options. This means he would have to pass through waivers if the Mariners decided to send him to Tacoma. Jerry Dipoto is probably hoping signing Sanchez will keep Montero motivated this spring, which is something he has struggled with in the past.

Barring a terrible showing in Arizona, Jesus Montero should find himself on the M’s opening day roster.

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