3 SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

April 05, 2009

Swing High, SwingLow
Not too many pitches get past a rookie third baseman whose overactive bat ismuch needed

PABLO SANDOVAL'Sphilosophy on hitting is part Duke Snider ("Swing hard in case they throwthe ball where you're swinging"), part Pete Rose ("See the ball; hitthe ball") with this little twist: "I see the little white thing,"Sandoval says, "and I swing." Whether the white thing is heading forhis head or his shoe tops, is in on his hands or out off the plate, he swings.When it comes to pitches or location, Sandoval does not discriminate. "Idon't have a lot of mechanics and all that," he says. "I just hit theball."

Ordinarily, thismight pose a problem for the Giants, who preach patience and discipline totheir young hitters. But the Sandoval school of hitting works—at least it doesfor him. Last spring he was sent to Class A San Jose to begin his fifth seasonof pro ball. After hitting .359 there and .337 at Double A Connecticut, he wascalled up in mid-August to the Giants, and he hit .345 in 145 at bats (butwalked only four times). This spring manager Bruce Bochy says he expectsSandoval to hit third, fourth or fifth in the order.

"He came outof nowhere, really," hitting coach Carney Lansford says. "We saw himlast year in spring training and the ball jumped off his bat, but we wereafraid he would chase a lot of the balls out of the zone. Well, he does chase alot of balls out of the zone—and he hits them."

Sandoval, 22, isa phenomenon in more ways than one. He is a 5'11", 246-pound switch-hitterwho can play three positions. Signed out of Venezuela in 2003 as a thirdbaseman, he was converted to catcher, moved back to third and has also learnedto play first. (In the interest of roster flexibility, the Giants would do wellto consider giving him time behind catcher Bengie Molina; Sandoval gunned down30 of 68 runners in the minors last season.) He throws with his right hand butdescribes himself as ambidextrous, which helps explain his proficiency fromboth sides of the plate.

Teammates tellSandoval that he is built like Tony Gwynn—in Gwynn's later years—and hits likethe free-swinging Vladimir Guerrero. But his recent ascent through the minorleagues is vintage Albert Pujols, who started the 2000 season with the Class APeoria Chiefs and was voted National League Rookie of the Year with theCardinals in '01.

Judging from lastseason, when Sandoval hit only three home runs in 41 games in the majors, hedoes not generate the kind of power that Pujols and Guerrero do. Then again, hewon the home run derby in the Venezuelan winter league this off-season, bestinga field that included Bobby Abreu, Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordoñez. That hotstick carried over into the spring, during which he was batting .467 in 60 atbats through Sunday.

San Francisco hasnot had a homegrown position player make the All-Star Game since Matt Williamsin 1996, and if the club is going to contend this season, not an impossibilityin a shallow division, it will need Sandoval to channel Williams. The Giantshave three Cy Young Award winners in their starting rotation (Randy Johnsonjoins Tim Lincecum and Barry Zito) and an overhauled bullpen (free-agentpickups Jeremy Affeldt and Bob Howry join closer Brian Wilson), but they scoredthe second-fewest runs in the National League last season and they cannotexpect new shortstop Edgar Renteria, the team's lone major every-day addition,to invigorate the offense on his own.

Rather, theybelieve a full season from Sandoval could make the difference. He will need toadjust to pitchers who are seeing him for the second time and maybe even layoff a few sliders in the dirt. But the Giants do not believe he will be weigheddown by the pressure to carry an entire lineup. "Won't change him atall," Lansford says. "He doesn't overthink anything—just sees the ball,hits the ball."

When Sandovalmade his debut last year, on Aug. 14, the Giants were 50--69. Over their last43 games they went 22--21. One game over .500 might not sound like much, but inthe National League West it won't take a whole lot more.

CONSIDER THIS
A Modest Proposal ...

Two years aftersigning the most lucrative contract for a pitcher in baseball history (sevenyears, $126 million), Barry Zito (left) is barely qualified to stay in theGiants' rotation. Homegrown flamethrowers Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and JonathanSanchez are each better pitchers than the 30-year-old lefthander, and veteransouthpaw Randy Johnson was brought in over the winter. By Opening Day 2010, toppitching prospects Madison Bumgarner, 19, and Tim Alderson, 20, will be betteroptions than Zito as well. Rather than employ an $18 million-a-year sixthstarter, the Giants have to trade him for anything they can get—payroll relief,bench help, a distressed mortgage or two—because starting him ahead of any oftheir better pitchers will chip away at their chance to have the game's bestrotation as early as next year.

THE NUMBERS

LIE
.596

The Giants'winning percentage (31--21) in one-run games last season, second best in theNational League, behind the Brewers'. (San Francisco's winning percentage inall other games was .373.) The Giants, who were 7--0 against the last-placePadres in one-run games, did not achieve that record because of a dominantbullpen, however; the pen ranked in the bottom third of the league in mostmajor relief categories.

The Lineup
WITH 2008 STATISTICS

Manager BruceBochy
THIRD SEASON WITH GIANTS

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

RANDY WINN RF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 65 .306 10 64 25
EDGAR RENTERIA

[NEWACQUISITION]

SS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 98 .270 10 55 6
FRED LEWIS LF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 140 .282 9 40 21
BENGIE MOLINA C
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 110 .292 16 95 0
PABLO SANDOVAL 3B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 125 .345 3 24 0
TRAVIS ISHIKAWA 1B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 206 .274 3 15 1
AARON ROWAND CF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 180 .271 13 70 2
EMMANUEL BURRISS 2B
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 273 .283 1 18 13
BENCH
EUGENIO VELEZ IF-OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 294 .262 1 30 15
RICH AURILIA IF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 313 .283 10 52 1
NATE SCHIERHOLTZ OF
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 300 .320 1 5 0

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

ROTATION
PITCHER PVR W L K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Tim Lincecum 2 18 5 10.5 1.17 2.62
LH Randy Johnson

[NEWACQUISITION]

41 11 10 8.5 1.24 3.91
RH Matt Cain 43 8 14 7.7 1.36 3.76
LH Barry Zito 191 10 17 6.0 1.60 5.15
LH Jonathan Sanchez 115 9 12 8.9 1.45 5.01
BULLPEN
PITCHER PVR W SV K/9 WHIP ERA
RH Brian Wilson 27 3 41 9.7 1.44 4.62
RH Bob Howry

[NEWACQUISITION]

224 7 1 7.5 1.46 5.35
LH Jeremy Affeldt

[NEWACQUISITION]

252 1 0 9.2 1.31 3.33

NEWACQUISITION
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 69)

NOW AT SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPTED FROM SI
May 24, 1993

How good is Barry Bonds? Good enough to make yoususpicious. The day he hit that one-armed homer against the Mets, it happenedthat teammate Matt Williams had just gone ahead of him for the league's homerun lead. Can Bonds just turn it on and off? Well, Syd Thrift rememberswatching Bonds in Triple A back in 1986, when Thrift was Pittsburgh's generalmanager. During batting practice before a game in Phoenix, Thrift saw Bondspull five or six balls over the rightfield fence. "I told him any goodhitter can do that," Thrift says, "but I'd like to see him hit a fewover the leftfield fence. He hit five in a row and said, 'Is that good enoughfor you?'"
—RICHARD HOFFER

For free access to all Giants stories and photographsfrom the SI archives, plus video clips, go to SI.com/vault.

PHOTODAVID ZALUBOWSKI/APPATIENCE PLEASE A once-barren farm system is finally producing promising position players, such as Sandoval. PHOTOBRAD MANGIN (ZITO) PHOTO

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)