TORONTO -- Aaron Sanchez has learned to take things one step at a time during his four seasons in the Blue Jays' Minor League system.
Sanchez is the only remaining survivor of the so-called "Lansing Big 3," who were once the prized assets of general manager Alex Anthopoulos. When it comes to overall development, though, he's also the only one yet to pitch above Class A.
While Noah Syndergaard and Justin Nicolino have both seen their journey to the big leagues speed up following last year's offseason trades, Sanchez has been taking each level one year at a time. That would frustrate a lot of players, but Sanchez appears to have bought into his organization's long-term outlook.
"There has been a plan since Day 1, and it's just sticking to the plan," said Sanchez, who was named Major League Baseball's ninth-best right-handed pitching prospect by MLB.com on Wednesday. "I'm going to go out there every day and get better wherever I am. Whether that's [Double-A] New Hampshire or wherever I'll be."
It was only a little over a year ago that Sanchez, Syndergaard and Nicolino were viewed as the future of Toronto's organization. They were all selected during the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and it wasn't long before the trio was included in various rankings of the top pitching prospects in baseball.
After spending parts of two years in Rookie leagues, the three hurlers began the 2012 season with low Class A Lansing. That's when their stock really began to rise and led to the "Lansing Big 3" nickname that became synonymous with the club's Minor League system.
Following the 2012 season, the group was -- perhaps inevitably -- broken up when Anthopoulos saw an opportunity to strike in the American League East. Nicolino was the first one gone, as part of the blockbuster deal with the Marlins, but it wasn't long before Syndergaard also left town in a trade for R.A. Dickey.
That left Sanchez as the only remaining prospect from the well-publicized group. Syndergaard and Nicolino received promotions from their new organizations not long after, but Sanchez was limited to a full season with Class A Advanced Dunedin. He appeared in 22 games, threw just 86 1/3 innings -- partially because of a minor injury -- and never got a sniff of New Hampshire.
"It's something that they've done with all of their young guys," Sanchez said of the Blue Jays' moderate approach. "You've seen the talent we have in this organization. ... With the young guys that we have, and all the arms that have gotten hurt in the past, they're a little bit more cautious, and it's an organizational plan that everyone sticks to."
The plan for Sanchez is to likely start this season in Double-A, but what happens after that is anyone's guess. It's possible he'll spend an entire season with the Fisher Cats, but an eventual promotion to Triple-A Buffalo also can't be ruled out.
There's even a chance Sanchez could make his Major League debut late in the year, but a lot of that will depend on factors outside of his control. The one thing Sanchez does have the ability to do is make those upcoming decisions as difficult on the organization's brass as possible.
Sanchez has the type of tools that every scout falls in love with. He stands at 6-foot-4 while possessing impressive downward action on a fastball that can reach 98 mph. He complements that with a hard curveball and an active changeup, which should translate well to the big league level.
The problem -- like it is for a lot of prospects -- has been command. Sanchez walked 40 batters in his 86 1/3 innings last season, and that's one reason why learning to master the location of his fastball remains a top priority.
"It's something that I go to the park working on every day," Sanchez said. "There's always room for improvement, and if that's what I need to do, I'm going to work my hardest to get that done.
"I think I just need to continue what I've been doing -- obviously I had a good showing in the Fall League [1.16 ERA over 23 1/3 innings] -- and just improving off that and rolling off that going into camp."