When the calendar turned to 2008, few people knew whom Pablo Sandoval was. His stats weren’t eye-popping and, because of it, his name didn’t show up on any kind of prospect rankings.
However, it’s 2009 and Sandoval is now one of the most promising youngsters the San Francisco Giants have in their organization.
His rise through the system last season was simply remarkable when you think about where he started.
He began the season at high Single-A San Jose, where he tore the cover off the ball to the tune of a .359 average with 12 home runs and 59 RBI in just 68 games.
Then it was off to Double-A Connecticut where he began to appear on people’s radars. In 44 games with the Defenders, Sandoval hit .337 with eight homers and 37 RBI.
After making his debut just three days after his 22nd birthday, Sandoval just kept hitting. Although he didn’t hit for the same kind of power that he did in the minors, he still racked up a .345 average and drove in 24 in 145 at-bats.
And now with everybody in the Giants organization and baseball prospect outlets keeping track of his every move this winter, he has done nothing to hurt his stock.
Playing for Navegantes del Magallanes of the Venezuelan Winter League, Sandoval has just continued to hit. He led the league with a .396 average and a .677 slugging percentage. He also tied for fourth with 12 home runs and was alone in fourth with a .449 on-base percentage.
He didn’t walk much at all during his winter in Venezuela, with eight of his 18 total walks coming through the intentional variety, but he doesn’t need to walk to get on base because he rarely strikes out.
In 593 at-bats at all levels last season, Sandoval struck out just 73 times. That’s unheard of when you consider he is just 22 years old.
In a sign of what might be next season, Sandoval played basically all of his games at first. If the Giants envisioned him as their everyday third baseman, it would be a pretty easy guess to think that they would tell Navegantes they wanted him at the hot corner.
If the Giants do acquire a third baseman, like has been rumored as of late, Sandoval will do as he did this winter and play at first.
But his ability to play three different positions and his switch-hitting will be why Bruce Bochy will be able to get creative with his lineup, even if the Giants do end up signing a third baseman.
Travis Ishikawa recorded a whopping seven at-bats in 33 games against left-handed pitchers, so all signs point to Sandoval getting most of the action at first when a lefty is on the hill.
But no matter what position he plays, Sandoval is going to be in the lineup for one reason: his bat.
He combines the ability to hit just as good from the right side of the plate as he does from the left and did it for a damn good average.
Sandoval is considered a power hitter, but his stroke isn’t like a normal bigtime bopper. His short stroke allows him to hit effectively to all fields, which will raise his average even further because defenses will have to play him straight up.
And as the Giants head into a new and younger era of baseball, even though their free-agent signings this winter have signaled anything but that, having a position player finally come out of their system is something to think that the next batch of youngsters to come up won't disappoint.