DUNEDIN, Fla. - A first-round draft pick of the Blue Jays out of high school in 2010, pitcher Aaron Sanchez is one for the future. But manager John Gibbons already likes what he sees in the 21-year-old right-hander.
"You watch him pitch, he's got as good an arm as anybody in baseball you're going to see," said Gibbons. "And he does it easy.
"Now he just has to refine what he has and gain a little more experience. Generally those guys, when everything comes together and it clicks, they go fast and then they get to the big leagues at a young age and they're there a long time."
In three outings this spring, Sanchez has given up just three hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts and two walks. Seven of those strikeouts came in a four-inning performance Tuesday in a split-squad win over the Canadian national junior team in St. Petersburg.
"He threw great," said Gibbons, who was in charge of another Jays squad in Lakeland that day. "One inning they told me he lost the strike zone a little bit but the other three he was really good.
"I mean he's not going to make the team. He'll go down to the minor leagues. But he's a guy, you know when he's ready, we'll open up a spot for him because we think he can be that good. But he's right where he should be. Those pitchers that go out to the Fall League and pitch well — pitchers and position players — that usually jump-starts them and you get a good feeling that they're close, because guys jump from that league all the time."
Sanchez, who is due to pitch again Sunday against the visiting Baltimore Orioles, has been happy with his pre-season performances to date.
"My biggest thing is fastball command and just attacking hitters," he said. "I felt like my last three outings I've done that really well."
In 2013, he pitched at Single-A Dunedin and then Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. Things went well but he acknowledges it's hard not to think of the ultimate prize — the major leagues.
"It is tough, but they have a plan and the stuff I can't control, I can't control," he said. "What I'm going to do is I'm going to go out there and work hard and whenever the time comes and I get the call, I'll be ready."
But he is already turning heads and started in the Fall League future stars game. The step-up in class continues for him at spring training.
"Now you go from the best of the best to the best of the best of the best, if that make sense," he said with a smile.
Sanchez has weapons. His fastball that can reach the high-90s and he also has a curveball and changeup in his repertoire.
"All my stuff moves," he said matter-of-factly. "So when you add velocity and movement that barely started pitching, for me it was tough to control."
That has been an issue, but he says there was a turnaround the last six weeks of last season.
At six foot four, the 190-pound Sanchez is still growing into his body. It wasn't long ago that he was still in high school, after all.
"I've grown up quick, I guess you could say," he said.
It's his fourth spring camp but first with the big league squad.
"It's a little different," he said. "I'm not doing much of any talking, which is a little odd but I feel like the more I sit back and watch all the guys that have been in the league in the while, how they go about their business, I can only gain from everything they've done."
Baseball runs in the family. His stepfather, Mike Shipley, was drafted in 1976 by the California Angels. Shipley, a left-handed pitcher, played at the University of Tulsa but his pro career was cut short by a shoulder injury.
Drafted 34th overall in June 2010, Sanchez said baseball has always been his career goal.
"When I was a kid, this is all I wanted to do," said the native of Barstow, Calif. "I wanted to be a pro baseball player. I didn't know how I was going to get there, I didn't know what it took to get there but I just knew I wanted to play."
Sanchez said he did not treat himself after signing a pro contract.
"I did some stuff for my parents," he said. "Without them I wouldn't be where I'm at."
But he bought himself a new car about four months ago — a BMW M5.
His minor league career has already taken him to Canada, with a 2011 stint with the Vancouver Canadians.
The goal is to return north of a border as a Blue Jay. In the meantime, he is learning and enjoying his trade.
"I am so fortunate to be able to come to the ballpark and put on a uniform and call it work," he said. "It's just awesome."