Spring training stats aren’t worth paying attention to, but spring training performance certainly is, on a day-to-day basis. Each day, we here at FanRag Sports will be singling out one player who had the best performance of the day, and what it might mean going forward.
Saturday’s Player of the Day honors go to Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval. No, really.
On Saturday afternoon in Fort Myers, Sandoval went 2-for-4 with a pair of home runs off Minnesota Twins pitchers Jake Reed and Nick Tepesch, driving in four runs in Boston’s 12-5 win. His spring slash line — which of course means little but for a player like Sandoval maybe means a little more than most — is up to an excellent .333/.350/.590.
This is Sandoval’s third spring with the Red Sox, with each having a totally different feel from the last. In 2015, he was the new commodity and knew he had a starting spot in the lineup; only later did things go downhill and Sandoval finished with the worst numbers of his professional career. A year later, he was trying to show he could put that disappointment behind him, but this time he was fighting for a starting job — a battle he ultimately lost to Travis Shaw. Of course, Sandoval was injured just days into the season and played only three games.
This year feels more like a combination of the previous two. Sandoval is once again at camp with low expectations and lower patience from fans, but once again the third base job is essentially his, with Shaw now a Milwaukee Brewer and little in the way of competition. Rafael Devers isn’t ready; Brock Holt is a utilityman who shouldn’t, and won’t, be starting every day. The position is Sandoval’s almost by default. The question, then, isn’t so much if he can win the job, but how long he can keep it.
The thing is though…Sandoval looks good this spring. Not in a tongue-in-cheek, “he isn’t fat” kind of way, or a “best shape of his life” kind of way, but in a “has confidence in his swing again” way that has rarely been seen in a Boston uniform. Look at one of his home runs in the video below; he puts a great swing on the ball and hits it a mile:
Pablo Sandoval destroys one and it almost went out of the park. ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/7bk9l3poMb
— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) March 18, 2017
After the game, Sandoval attributed his results to a return of his bat speed, something that’s been missing over the last few years and likely only got worse post-surgery.
“I think I got my bat speed back,” Sandoval said after the game.
His teammates are noticing, too, with Rick Porcello noting after the game, “[Sandoval has] really been swinging well and playing hard. He looks great.”
As Jason Mastrodonato notes in the above-linked piece, Sandoval now has more hits (13), RBI (11) and home runs (3) that he did last spring, even with 11 strikeouts in his 39 at bats. There’s also still the matter of whether he can hit right-handed, something he completely failed at in 2015 (2-for-41) and ultimately gave up, but which he says he will resume this season.
A high strikeout rate and inability to hit right-handed (if he does indeed continue to try it) will only lead to the same frustration from the past two seasons, but nevertheless Sandoval has done nearly everything right this spring. He showed up in (relatively) good shape, said all the right things about earning back the trust of his teammates, coaches, and fans, and has been hitting the ball well while fielding his position. He looks, and sounds, like — dare I say — his old self.
“He’s done everything you’re looking for,” manager John Farrell said after Saturday’s game. “But I don’t see any reason to say he’s the guy. Just continue to go play and we’ll put the best team on the field on a given day.”
Whether Farrell means it when he says Sandoval still has to earn his starting job or not, he’s certainly done everything he can to do so.