Pitching prospect Victor Sanchez dies in Venezuela

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Victor Sanchez, one of the Mariners’ top pitching prospects, died in Venezuela from head injuries sustained in a boating accident in his home country six weeks ago.

The Mariners confirmed the news Saturday night after MLB.com initially learned of Sanchez’s death from his agent, Rafa Nieves. Sanchez was 20 years old and had been in the Mariners’ Minor League system since signing as an international free agent at 16.

“The Seattle Mariners are saddened to learn of the passing of Victor Sanchez,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “Victor was a tremendous young man and a wonderful teammate. He was a very talented player who was close to fulfilling his promise as a Major Leaguer. He will be missed by his teammates, and the coaches and staff at the Mariners.

“The entire Mariners organization sends our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time,” Zduriencik said.”

Sanchez has been in critical condition in a Caracas hospital since being hit in the head by a boat propeller while swimming off the shore of the eastern coastal city of Carupano on Feb. 13, just days before he was to fly to Arizona to take part in the Mariners’ Minor League mini-camp prior to the start of Spring Training.

Sanchez had been unconscious in an induced coma since the incident and underwent brain surgery after sustaining a double skull fracture and brain hematoma.

The 6-foot, 255-pound right-hander was ranked as the Mariners’ 11th-best prospect by MLB.com last year. Sanchez went 7-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 23 starts for Double-A Jackson, where he was the second-youngest player in the Southern League.

Mariners infielder Patrick Kivlehan, who played with Sanchez the past three seasons in the Minors, told MLB.com after the accident that the big youngster was well liked by all his teammates.

“When I first met him he was a pretty quiet kid who kind of kept to himself,” said Kivlehan, who was five years older than Sanchez after being drafted out of college. “But he kind of broke out of his shell over the years. That’s the one thing you noticed. He was very mature for his age.

“He wasn’t like the normal young kids that come in with a lot of money and most of them need to be humbled a little bit and grow up a little,” Kivlehan said. “He kind of had that from Day One. He knew what he wanted and was very humble, quiet and soft-spoken kid. But very funny also.”

Sanchez was regarded as one of Venezuela’s top young pitching prospects when the Mariners signed him for a reported $2.5 million bonus in 2011 as a 16-year-old out of Rio Chico, Venezuela. He made 15 starts with Class A Everett in 2012, going 6-2 with a 3.18 ERA, then posted a 6-6 record and 2.78 ERA in 20 starts for Class A Clinton in 2013 before being promoted to Double-A last season.

Sanchez threw a no-hitter in his 27th professional start in 2013 for Clinton, striking out eight over nine innings and allowing just one base runner on a hit batter.

“It’s pretty devastating to a lot of us,” Minor League catcher Tyler Marlette said in the initial aftermath of Sanchez’s accident. “He’s a big dude – we’d always call him Shrek – with a lot of humor. He’s always pleasant, always positive with everybody. Just a fun-loving guy and he’d be the first one to buy you food or do anything for you. It’s a shame that it happened to him. It just reminds you how important life is and that it’s not just about baseball. It was a big eye opener for all of us.”

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