Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Thing 1

On December 21st, the Pirates signed former Twins and White Sox starting pitcher Francisco Liriano.  This article is not a reaction to that signing - that's already been done here by my colleague Jimmy - but the signing now seems to be one of the dominoes that led to the shipping of closer Joel Hanrahan to the Red Sox. It must be noted that the Liriano signing was not the only reason for trading Hanrahan, but it did reduce the Pirates need to trade the closer for a starting pitcher.  Ultimately, Hanrahan was shipped due to his high cost as a closer who had a mediocre year last year when viewed under the surface.

So, as it stands, Hanrahan will start next season in a Boston uniform.  The Pirates, as it currently stands, will add two players to their organization in return for trading their closer.  The first player is Jerry Sands, aka, for the sake of this article, Thing 1.  The second player, aka Thing 2, is Stolmy Pimentel.  Note, the trade is not final, with the possibility of three more players being added to the mix, one from Pittsburgh and two from Boston.  Mark Melancon has been mentioned as a third player coming to the Pirates from the Red Sox, but that's less cemented than the trade foundation consisting of Sands and Pimentel for Hanrahan.

Jerry Sands - Thing 1 - is a former top Dodgers prospect that traveled to Boston as part of the Adrian Gonzalez-Carl Crawford trade this past summer. The Dodgers originally drafted Sands in the 25th round back in 2008 out of Catawba College located in North Carolina.  In his first two full professional seasons, Sands displayed solid walk rates and decent pop, but he was old for the levels he played at and his production was not enough to overcome that and make him stand out.

That changed in 2010 when Sands enjoyed a huge breakout season. He started the year at Low-A in the Dodgers system.  There, he put up a .333/.432/.646 line with 18 homeruns in 287 plate appearances.  Sands continued on his tear even after receiving a promotion to Double-A, putting up a .270/.360/.529 line in 303 plate appearances, slugging 17 homeruns in the process.  On the year, Sands showed solid plate discipline, striking out just over 20% of the time, but countering that with walk rates above 10% at both levels. Sands finished the year by turning 23 years-old in August.

Sands followed up his strong 2010 year with an solid first half in Triple-A in 2011. In 418 plate appearances, the Dodger's prospect put up a .278/.344/.586 tripleslash.  In addition, he hit 29 homeruns, again showing good power, although it must be noted that Sands played in the super hitter-friendly PCL.  For context, Sands's wRC+ was 119 in Triple-A, a solid but not spectacular number.  In response to his production, the Dodgers promoted Sands to the major leagues where he played 61 games and received 227 plate appearances.  In those plate appearances, Sands hit .253/.338/.389, maintaining acceptable plate discipline (11.0% walk rate and 22.5% K rate) but losing average and power production.  Still, it was a decent major league debut at age 24 for Sands, who defensively played mainly at the corner outfield spots.  In that small sample size, Sands was more or less average with the glove.

In 2012, the Dodgers sent Sands back to Triple-A, where he again excelled in a very friendly offensive environment.  Over 522 plate appearances, he put up a .296/.375/.524 line with 26 homeruns.  Sands added in his standard high walk rate and above-average, but manageable strikeout rate.  His production was marginally better than in 2011, with a 130 wRC+.  However, unfortunately for Sands, he got essentially no shot in the majors in 2012.  At the trade deadline, as mentioned earlier, Sands was sent to Boston in a blockbuster player swap.  Now, before he could even attend a spring training in the Boston organization, he's been shipped to Pittsburgh.

With the bat in his hands, Sands shows above-average pop potential, mainly from brute strength rather than bat speed.  His bat isn't particularly slow, but it's not lightening quick enough to foresee high batting averages in the future.  Sands has maintained solid plate discipline throughout his time in the minors and that should translate into the future.  In his short major league trials, the newly minted Pirate has struggled drastically against right handed pitchers.  However, that was a non-issue for Sands in the minors.  Defensively, Sands can manage in corner outfield spots, but may have to move to first base eventually.  Overall, with a bit of improvement, Sands could be a viable everyday corner outfielder with solid on-base numbers and solid pop, although he'll never be elite in either category.  Even if that doesn't happen, Sands could be a platoon bat that can smash left-handed hitters when the need arises. Sands is far from an elite prospect or exciting budding star, but he's still young enough and he still has enough upside to deserve attention, even in a crowded outfield situation in Pittsburgh.