There is absolutely nothing about Pablo Sandoval that is ordinary.
After all, when was the last time a 22-year-old 5'11" 245-pound switch-hitting catcher made the jump from A-ball to the middle of the batting order for a major league team in one year? If you're leafing through your Baseball Almanac, I'll save you the time. The answer is never. The closest comparison you will find is 2008 NL MVP Albert Pujols, who made a similar rapid rise in 2000, but who has a different physical build.
The 22-year old Venezuelan, who is one day older than I, was signed and groomed by San Francisco in 2002 at the age of 16. Sandoval wasn't even on the Giants' top 30 prospect list by Baseball America at this time last year. Yet Giants fans are already touting him as being the first homegrown position player All-Star since 1996.
|2008 - Pablo Sandoval||.345||.357||.490|
Few players have generated as much buzz with under 150 major league at-bats as Sandoval has. He has torn up every league he's played in the last two years with the bat and has proved capable at multiple defensive positions. He has accumulated 35 home runs in the last three seasons and can put on an impressive power display as seen in this home run derby video from two months ago.
pablo sandoval campeon derby jonrrones 2008 (via victoralfonzo87)
But what should we expect from the youngster in 2009? Grant, the manager over at McCovey Chronicles offers his insight:
If Sandoval is healthy, he'll get 500 at-bats, easy. I'm a little worried that he'll follow a Jeff Francouer career path, though: No walks, high average, and medium power before the league figures him out...Pitchers will get Sandoval to swing at a slider one foot off the plate, and he'll hit it for a double.
That last comment sounds a bit like another former MVP. He's racking up the comparisons, isn't he? Andrew Baggarly at the San Jose Mercury News reports that Sandoval will hit fifth in the order to start and likely bat fourth when the usual clean-up hitter, Bengie Molina, gets the night off.
Sandoval achieved an astronomical BABIP of .367 with Frisco in his 145 at-bats. Most assuredly, that will come down. But maybe not as much as you might think. As Grant puts it, "the dude hits *everything* hard."
Statistic to know: In 2008, Sandoval hit line drives on 25.9% of his batted balls, which would rank 3rd in the major leagues.
Or note his .387 BABIP in High-A and .347 in AA in 2008. When you are smoking line drives, you are going to have a high BABIP.
Still, Sandoval is not going to hit .345 at the end of 2009. Sandoval's weakness, one he shares with many young sluggers, is plate discipline. Note that he swung at more than half of the pitches outside the strike zone. Pablo earned walks in less than 3% of his plate appearances in 2008, a trend not far removed from his minor league numbers. This is something that can and will be taken advantage of by major league pitchers. He may not go Francouer on Frisco as Grant fears, but the league will catch up to him and drop his numbers a bit. But how much?
Join me after the jump for projections and NL West news.
Below are projections from CHONE, Bill James and Grant from McCovey Chronicles. Marcel was intentionally left out due to its unrealistically low projection of at-bats.
Or for the hometown view, check out the McCovey Chronicles community projections.
Where Will He Play?
Courtesy of Grant:
He will be the starter at third, and the Giants have almost completely ruled out any catching duties for him this year. He doesn't allow a lot of passed balls, and his arm rates as above-average, so the Giants would probably be best off trading Molina and starting Sandoval at catcher.
Despite being a catcher originally, Sandoval is blocked by the Giants' current cleanup hitter Bengie Molina. Thus, Sandoval is relegated to the hot corner in 2009, with recently signed Rich Aurilia Juan Uribe as the back-up plans. The Giants' could have signed Joe Crede, but aparently, Brain Sabean is sure Sandoval is ready for a full-time job.
Baseball America also muses over Sandoval behind the dish. After all, he was among the best at stopping base-stealers last year in all of minor league baseball. ---SIDE NOTE: Both the Rockies and Giants placed two catchers in the top seven in MiLB in 2008, with Michael McKenry first and Lars Davis 7th. --
Sandoval will hold his own defensively at third - at least no worse than Garrett Atkins. He posted a 2.57 Range Factor in A-ball in 2006 (which translates as average) and didn't commit an error in 12 starts at third with the Giants.
Verdict: I believe Bill James is too optimistic in his projection, although Sandoval has the talent to achieve those numbers in the near future. The Rockies' pitchers need to take advantage of his lack of discipline to avoid Sandoval from connecting with one of his big swings. Colorado did well against him in 08, holding him to just a .156 average, although two of his five hits were home runs. He won't hit as well in 09 as he did in 08 naturally, but the guy is only 22. I'm petrified of his potential.
Around the NL West
Avoided arbitration with 1B/OF Conor Jackson last Monday. The two sides agreed at the midpoint of $3.05million.
Gained a #17 overall pick. Details below.
Eleven players and one coach fell ill to gastrointestinal issues Sunday. Among the victims were Chris Young, Daniel Schlereth, Justin Upton and Miguel Montero.
Verdict: I'm surprised by Arizona's move to settle at the mid-point with Jackson. I expected them to defeat him in the arbitration hearing. The Diamondbacks now have two draft picks in the top 20. Getting the #17 pick is quite a coup.
Signed 2B Orlando Hudson to a 1-year $3.4million contract worth $4.6million with incentives in what Keith Law is calling "easily one of the biggest bargains of the offseason." The Royals offered $4.6million in base salary. Arizona will receive Los Angeles' 17th overall pick in the 2009 draft as compensation. Now LA's first pick is #36.
Manager Joe Torre will retire after the 2010 season.
Verdict: To me, the benefit of having the declining Hudson at second isn't worth losing the draft pick. TrueBlueLA agrees. Poor Blake DeWitt. He sees Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent leave to open up playing time only to see Casey Blake and Orlando Hudson sign to start in front of him. Give the kid credit though. He's being professional.
Signed RHP Walter Silva of the Mexican League to a $400k contract. Silva will be given a chance to make the rotation out of Spring Training.
Signed OF Emil Brown to a minor league contract. Brown earned 438 at-bats in Oakland last season, but may have difficulty securing the fifth OF spot.
jbox at GasLamp Ball thinks the Padres are overweight.
Verdict: Naturally, a professional athlete's muscle mass is greater than the average human being, so the BMI jbox uses to qualify obesity is the incorrect scale. But it's still worth a look if you want to laugh at the Padres. Especially David Eckstein....The fact that Walter Silva has a legitimate shot to open the season in the rotation might as well be a white flag that says "REBUILDING."
Verdict: The Giants could have had Crede if they wanted, and he wasn't expensive. Clearly, they have a lot of faith in Sandoval, but their first base situation is still unaddressed. Marte would be a low risk, high reward addition who could fill in at first base. Or Sandoval and Marte could switch positions. McCovey Chronicles explores the possibility...If I'm Tim Lincecum, I cash in on my Cy Young season right now. If I'm the Giants FO, I don't even listen to contract talks until after 2009. I need to see Lincecum can maintain his health and productivity after being heavily abused in 2008.