When one thinks of steroid or PED users in baseball, one tends to think of players like Mark McGwire or Barry Bonds – big home run hitters who had a penchant for hitting a baseball 500 feet. Yet, when going through the list of players caught under through MLB testing, majority of the list is comprised of fringe players or middle relievers.
Alex Sanchez, the very first player caught in MLB’s testing policy, was that type of player. Sanchez was actually originally drafted by the Rays in the fifth round in 1996, after defecting from Cuba. He put up solid numbers in the minors, displaying excellent speed, yet poor baseball instincts and erratic defense. The Rays released him, and he was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers on April 6, 2001.
Sanchez began the season with the Indianapolis Indians, where he had a slash rate of .313/.359/.394 while stealing 27 bases in 81 games. He still displayed his inconsistent defense, with 6 errors in 186 chances. However, he showed enough potential where he was promoted to the Brewers on June 15th.
As the primary center fielder for the Brewers heading into the 2002 season, he had his best season, hitting .289 and stealing 37 bases, good for fifth best in the league. Sanchez’s 7 triples were good enough to finish sixth best in the NL. He also had his best year defensively, finishing with a dWAR of 0.5.
Yet, his defensive struggles and negative attitude in the clubhouse got him shipped to the Detroit Tigers on May 27, 2003 for career minor leaguers Chad Petty and Noochie Varner. With the Tigers, it was more of the same for Sanchez – excellent speed and flashes of ability mixed with defensive struggles and problems on the basepaths. In roughly 2/3 of a season the AL, Sanchez lead the league in caught stealing with 18, and had the most errors of any centerfielder with 6. 2004 was worse, as he stole 19 bases, but was caught 13 times. Despite missing more than half the season with leg injuries, he still committed 9 errors in center field, leading the AL.
These continual defensive struggles caused Sanchez to be released on March 15, 2005. Four days later, he signed with the Tampa Bay Rays to be their primary centerfielder. However, those plans changed on April 3rd, when Sanchez became the first player caught under Major League Baseball’s testing policy for PEDs. After serving his ten game suspension, Sanchez found himself receiving sporadic playing time, due to his continually erratic defensive play. Despite a .346 batting average, Sanchez was released by the Rays, and picked up by the San Francisco Giants from waivers on June 23rd. Sanchez played 19 games with the Giants before getting injured, and was released once healthy, never to play in the majors again.
Sanchez was the quintessential one-tool player. His great speed was never truly able to translate into a successful baseball career; and once he was caught as a PED user, that essentially ended his chances.