Pablo Sandoval is an under-appreciated part of the Giants' Golden Age. Maybe the presence of Sandoval in the lineup today isn't under-appreciated. His contributions to the World Series were appreciated just fine, too. But the comic-book origin story of Sandoval is what's often glossed over.
On June 4, 2008, the Giants' lineup featured Jose Castillo hitting second, John Bowker hitting fifth, and Travis Denker hitting sixth. Matt Cain took the loss, as he often did. On June 5, the Giants drafted Buster Posey. On June 24, Pablo Sandoval was promoted to Double-A.
Think about the future of the Giants when that June started. The hope was that maybe Justin Smoak would fly through the minors and help the team out in 2009. That's all the Giants had -- a #6 overall pick and a couple of great young pitchers. Oh, and this pudgy catcher unexpectedly tearing up the Cal League. But when would he show up? If he advanced one level each year, maybe he'd be ready in 2011. And considering that he didn't even crack Baseball America's top-30 list that year, it's not like he was a blue-chip, can't-miss prospect. He could miss. And considering the Giants' history of hitting prospects, he probably would.
This was a fragile time in the Giants' evolution. Think of it like a primordial pond of goo millions of years ago, where an incremental change to the pH level could have meant the difference between the beginning on life on Earth and a lonely, barren planet. I didn't get this idea from the last Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. Shut up. But that kind of fragility was there for the Giants' renaissance when Sandoval was promoted to Double-A and then to the majors in August. If Sandoval got sucked into the Eastern League abyss, things would have been different. If he started his major-league career 3-for-38 with 15 strikeouts, things would have been much different.
Instead, a non-prospect made the jump from A-ball to the majors, and he never stopped hitting.
That never happened for the Giants. Never, ever, ever. It happened for other teams. But it never happened for the Giants, for whom Marvin Benard was one of the brightest player-development stars of the last decade. The Pablo Sandoval surge was as welcome as it was unlikely. It still doesn't make sense.
Long story short: Don't take Pablo Sandoval for granted, you jerks. It's normal to be worried about his weight, or get frustrated by his conditioning. But hopefully Sandoval is one of those guys who will always get a free drink in San Francisco. We like to fete Cody Ross and Marco Scutaro now, and in time we'll remember Aubrey Huff for the good times only, but how often have you stopped to marvel at the existence of Pablo Sandoval?
Really? Every day? Well, you're a better person than most.
Bloated introductions aside, this is supposed to be a post about how Sandoval will do this year. The good news: There aren't any hamate bones left, sucker! The bad news: The hamate bones were just one faction of a larger militia. Apparently his whole skeleton is a complete jerk. Now bone spurs are jingling and jangling in his elbow, and he's questionable to start the season.
The Giants don't seem too worried. Surgery has been ruled out. So I'm going to proceed as if everything's normal.
The oddest thing about the team-wide power outage last season was Sandoval's dinger-free existence. After a couple of seasons with over 20 homers, Sandoval hit 12 homers last year -- tied with Dustin Ackley and Miguel Olivo, and just one ahead of Cody Ransom. There is so much wrong with that sentence. And, after that slappy regular season, Sandoval became the fourth player in history to hit three home runs in one World Series game, hitting his first two off Justin Verlander. There is so much right with that sentence.
So which one was the fluke? Is Sandoval a dozen-homer guy who was in the right place at the right time in October? Or is he a 20- or even 30-homer guy who had a fluky, power-free regular season?
Before you mention the ballpark, note that Sandoval had just five homers on the road last year. The park didn't help, but it wasn't the entire issue.
I don't see how Sandoval can be a 12-homer guy. He swings too hard. He's too strong. When he's right, his opposite-field power is outstanding. It's the kind of opposite-field power that can make an MVP and Cy Young say, "Wow" when he doesn't know the cameras are on him.
What would Mike Krukow call that? A both-cheeker yak-a-doo? Something like that. I'm just not sure how a guy who's adept at both a) making contact, and b) delivering both-cheeker-yak-a-doo swings can be good for only a dozen home runs every year. So I'm declining to believe in that Sandoval. I'm electing to believe in the one who was the World Series MVP. Or something in the middle, actually. Considering that Sandoval was still a good player last year, that would be quite the improvement.
If you're worried about the hacking, I kind of think that's overblown, too. He had a slightly above-average walk rate last year, and his strikeout rate is actually well below the league average. He'll take some amusing swings at pitches that bounce on the plate, but he'll also hold up on a lot of close pitches when he's down in the count. You just don't remember those. Actually, I don't either. Hold on, lemme make sure I have that right ...
Point is, I think Sandoval can get better. He's just 26, you know. There are still 26-year-olds flummoxing their current teams. Is Lorenzo Cain ready to break out? What about Desmond Jennings? Yet we're so used to Sandoval, that kind of thought rarely crosses our mind. Some years he's great, and some years he's just okay. I'm a going with the former this time around.
Us fanboys and fangirls should get secret decoder rings that light up, and we should all put them in the middle of a circle when we make these projections. Then we can make an "WOOOOOOAAAAAH" sound and raise them to the ceiling in unison before ... you know, it's too hard to explain here. I'll show you what I mean in person.