For any fan who follows the farm system of the Los Angeles Dodgers even remotely, one player who continues to instill hopes of offensive firepower in the lineup is outfielder and first baseman Jerry Sands.
Sands, who made his first Triple-A appearance for the Albuquerque Isotopes at the beginning of the season, is currently amidst a very impressive hot streak. Through his first six games, he's hitting .417 with two doubles, four home runs and 14 RBI. His slugging percentage calculates to an even 1.000 while he carries an OPS of 1.429.
Many believe that Sands could benefit from a full year at the Triple-A level before playing regularly in the majors. However, the power he displayed during Cactus League play and the first group of games in the Pacific Coast League could certainly benefit the Dodgers. As a team, Los Angeles struggled in most power categories last season. With general manager Ned Colletti focused mainly on pitching acquisitions during the offseason, the Dodgers find themselves in the same position in 2011.
Colletti is notorious for using middle or end-of-the-road veteran players before he takes chances on rookies. Also, the questions that come into play are: "just where would he fit into the lineup and who would he replace?"
Rather than thinking from the inside outwards, perhaps looking at it from the outside inwards could give a clearer understanding. Instead of dabbling with the 40-man and only giving Sands and occasional at-bat, put him where he's the strongest and let him show his value. If Sands continues to produce at this rate through the end of April into May, he should be activated, regardless of who's on the roster or any monies owed to a player who would be subsequently optioned.
The following slides highlight five reasons why Jerry Sands may be ready sooner than many think, and attempt to show how he may fit into the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting lineup moving forward.
Sands was drafted by Los Angeles in the 25th round of the 2008 MLB June Amateur draft, and from the moment he stepped foot onto the Dodgers' farm, his most prized attribute was his ability to hit the long ball.
In 2008 with the Gulf Coast Dodgers, he hit 10 home runs in only 46 games and 146 at-bats. In 2009, Sands tallied 19 home runs, 16 doubles, four triples, a .618 slugging percentage, and a 1.019 OPS with both the Ogden Raptors and the Great lakes Loons in only 73 combined games.
2010 saw Sands earn the Dodgers' Minor League Player of the Year honors. His 35 home runs were third in minor league baseball, and he backed that stat with a .301 average and a OPS of .981. Considering he spent the second half of the season with the Chattanooga Lookouts in the pitching-dominated Southern League, it makes his numbers seem even more impressive.
It will be almost impossible for Sands to maintain his incredible start to 2011, but if four home runs and 14 RBI in Triple-A are a small indication of what to expect, his numbers will be off the charts.
In the first few years of his minor league career, one primary concern of Sands' overall offensive game has been his discipline at the plate.
With the Gulf Coast Dodgers in 2008, he registered 43 strikeouts in 46 games and 146 at-bats. Yet, since striking out 60 times in 73 games with Ogden and Great Lakes in 2009, his numbers are improving and his walks are increasing.
Last year, Sands drew a total of 73 bases-on-balls, and looking at his start to 2011, he has only one strikeout in 24 at-bats. During Cactus League play this spring, Sands struck out only eight times in 22 games while drawing five walks.
His OBP during spring training was .405, after calculating to .395 during all of 2010. So far in 2011 for the Isotopes, Sands is getting on base at a 43 percent clip.
Looking ahead five years, it's difficult to predict into which position Jerry Sands will settle.
Over his three-year minor league career, he has played all three outfield positions, has seen a good deal of time at first base, and has even dabbled at the hot corner to further demonstrate his versatility.
Although his arm is probably rated about average by Major League standards, Sands played right field in 102 of his 262 total minor league games. He appeared at first base in 87 of those games while playing left field in 43 and center field in 25. Although many members of the media see Sands fitting into the Dodgers future as a left fielder, his natural spot could easily be first base, considering his build and frame of 6'4" and 225 lbs.
Although he's not considered overly quick, his speed is somewhat deceptive once his frame gets rolling. In 2010 for Great Lakes and Chattanooga combined, Sands went 18-for-20 in the stolen base department.
Although Sands is entering just his fourth full year in the Dodgers' system, he has four years of college ball under his belt, and he's not like your typical high school player who still needs to develop physically.
He wasn't highly exposed as a college player, having attended Catawaba College, a private school in North Carolina. However, he is 23 years old, and already has the athletic build he needs.
Sands is very humble as well. He says he's not a prima donna-type player, yet if a pressure situation arises, he's certainly up to the challenge.
"I don't really feel pressure—all I can do is do my thing and play hard every day. It was maybe a little easier coming out of a smaller school and not having all those expectations right away. I'm not the kind of guy who needs that attention, but if the opportunity comes I'll be the same person," Sands said in an interview with MiLB.com.
In regards to his maturity at the plate and finishing second in the Dodgers' system in walks last year, he went on to add: "I'm not the kind of hitter that puts the ball in play every time—I've had my share of strikeouts—so I try to stay patient and go after pitches I can handle. Seeing more pitches and getting on base are positives."
Sands also indicated that having sit-downs with Dodger greats Tommy Lasorda, Maury Wills and Eric Karros have been highlights of his young career.
Many fans across Dodgertown have been consistently criticizing first baseman James Loney for his drop-off during the second half of last season and his slow start to the 2011 campaign. But in all actuality, his numbers will get better—it's just a matter of when.
In the meantime, facing left-handed pitching isn't exactly helping Loney. Having Sands on the roster, who bats right-handed, could possibly spark production for Loney while facing strictly right-handed pitching—at least temporarily.
Also, since his early days in Dodger Blue, Loney has never really had any competition at first base in terms of being a starter. Perhaps a friendly "battle" between Sands and Loney for a starting spot on the field could be a catalyst for production from both players.
Adding Sands to the 40-man roster is a bit more complicated than it sounds, but right now, it seems the most sensible thing to do. Sands will have at least three option years, and at the rate he's going, he may need to utilize only one or two.
Some fans who saw recent activations of Jamie Hoffmann, Ivan De Jesus and John Ely believe that the Dodgers would have certainly benefited more from the power of Sands' bat instead.
It doesn't matter where he plays, or which player's spot he fills—at the rate he's producing, it's just important to get him in the lineup.