Charlotte Knights manager Joel Skinner gave Carlos Sanchez Mother’s Day off.
The day earlier, the 21-year-old second baseman’s 25-game on-base streak had come to an end with a four-strikeout performance and one day before that, the native of Venezuela had said goodbye to an 11-game hitting streak.
Confidence still fully intact, Sanchez arrived at BB&T BallPark on that Sunday and went straight to Charlotte hitting coach Andy Tomberlin and kidded about having earned a “golden sombrero” – a common term for a four-strikeout game – the night before.
“Carlos likes to joke around and he likes to have fun,” Tomberlin said. “Originally, (the night before) was something I didn’t want to bring up, because I didn’t want him thinking about striking out, but he brought it up to me and we both had to laugh.”
After his chat with Tomberlin, Sanchez, who’s always helping to keep the clubhouse loose, headed to the batting cage – on a red electric scooter he likes to hide in his locker.
He called his mother and pregnant wife back in Venezuela and promised each a hit in the next game.
Two at-bats in, he’d delivered on both promises, with a single and a double.
By his fourth at-bat, Sanchez was a home run away from hitting for the cycle.
“I was happy to get those hits for them today,” said Sanchez, who flied out to right in his final plate-appearance. “I was in a good (position) to hit a home run there and help win the game, but all I was doing was trying to hit the ball hard.
“My game is to get base hits, play defense and get on base. I don’t worry if I’m not getting 10 home runs a season, that’s not my game.”
Sanchez – who entered the season as the No. 12 prospect in the White Sox system, according to Baseball America – ranks second on the Knights in average (of the players who started the season with the team), .268, and third in on-base percentage, .362.
He wears the No. 13 in honor of fellow Venezuelan Omar Vizquel, who is widely regarded as one of the best defensive infielders to ever play the game.
The two have never met, but with Vizquel, now 47, helping coach the Detroit Tigers, that’s something Sanchez hopes to change in the near future.
Baseball was everything
By the time Sanchez was 3, playing baseball had become his passion.
“On vacations, after school every day, all I did was play baseball,” said Sanchez, through an interpreter.
Growing up in Maracay, Venezuela, his parents had little extra money to speak of, but after seeing him take to the game so naturally, they – along with his grandparents – did everything they could to encourage his passion.
“When I was 9 years old, my family started to move around to help me be able to play,” Sanchez said. “The fields were not in good condition and the equipment wasn’t great, but we would just use whatever we had at the time. I played every day with whatever we could get our hands on.”
On New Year’s Eve in 2008, the White Sox sent a scout to watch Sanchez, then 15, play for the first time.
Five months later, Sanchez was offered a $50,000 contract to join the organization as a catcher.
“I had only caught for one season,” Sanchez said. “And I knew I wanted to play the infield. So I asked them if I could sign as a middle infielder instead. They knocked their offer down $5,000 and I signed.”
Sanchez, who is a switch-hitter, spent two seasons playing in the Dominican Summer League before heading to the United States.
Playing in the United States
Tyler Saladino, Sanchez’s double-play partner partner for much of this year with the Knights and in parts of the last three seasons, can still remember encountering his younger teammate for the first time back in 2011.
“Carlos was maybe 160 pounds soaking wet and pretty quiet,” Saladino said. “He couldn’t really communicate too well being so young and from another country, so went about his business, got things done, and worked hard.”
An advantage Saladino, as well as many other American-born players, had over Sanchez was that they’d already begun weight-training programs in high school and college and had bodies better suited for the longer season.
“Back then, he was just a young little kid,” Saladino said. “Tons of energy, but not a whole lot of strength. He was still with the rest of the pack of kids trying to prove themselves.”
The difference in physical maturity made a quick impression on Sanchez.
“That was the turning point for him,” Saladino said. “He went home, started working out, got on a program and came back much stronger. He had more strength at the plate. His arm was noticeably better. And that’s, I think, when things started to turn for him.”
In 2011, Sanchez needed just five games with the rookie-level Bristol Pirates before he joined the Low-A Kannapolis Intimidators of the South Atlantic League.
The following year, Sanchez flew through High-A Winston-Salem – where he lead the Carolina League with a .315 average – and Double-A Birmingham before reaching Charlotte as a 20-year-old.
The sudden rise – over three levels where Sanchez had 34 extra-base hits and batted .323 – led to a trip to the 2012 Futures Game for the White Sox’s No. 3 prospect.
A step back
Sanchez, who stands 5-foot-11, and now weighs 190 pounds, began last season as the youngest player in the International League, but was unable to duplicate his 2012 success, hitting .241 in 112 games.
“Getting to play in Triple-A when I was 20, I think that helped me mature,” Sanchez said. “Playing every day helped me to learn how to get into a set routine. Learning that mindset helped me get through the tough parts of last season.”
The down season saw Sanchez drop 10 spots in Baseball America’s top prospect list but didn’t dampen his confidence or fun-loving nature.
“Sanchez is like a little kid that you have to keep your eye on all the time,” Saladino said. “Otherwise, he’ll come out of nowhere and you’ll get slapped in the back of the head and then he’ll run off and you can’t catch him. That’s 100 percent true.
“He’s like my little brother, but you can’t start giving him any credit or he’ll start thinking he’s Roberto Alomar. But, honestly, he’s a very talented athlete. He has the ability to roll out of bed and wow anybody. Offensively, he’s just a tough at-bat, a hard guy to get out. With his glove, he can make some of the hardest plays look like a stroll in the park, like they’re just easy. It’s fun to watch.”
At 21 years and nine months old on Opening Day, Sanchez entered the season as the third youngest player in the league, but it’s his increased maturity level that’s helped get him back on track.
“I’ve seen him be more patient and selective at the plate,” Tomberlin said. “His situational hitting has progressed a lot, too. He’s picking pitches that he can handle. He’s chased less and that’s just a result of his continued maturity. He has a lot to offer and he can play in the big leagues, it’s just that there needs to be a spot.
“He definitely likes to joke around. But when it comes down to it, he’s a gamer and a scrapper. Everyday you’re going to get all that he’s got. He’s going to end up in the big leagues and I hope it’s with us.”
Asked what it would be like to get called up to the White Sox this September, Sanchez smiled.
“I think that it’s going to be before September,” he said. “I think I’m ready to play there now.”