David Ortiz, the face of the Boston Red Sox, will not have to worry about a human panda wanting to take his spot as the designated hitter. Pablo Sandoval has no intention of becoming the DH in Boston.
In an interview with MLB Network Radio on Tuesday, Sandoval made it clear that he plans on being the starting third baseman for the Red Sox, instead of sharing DH duties with Ortiz. Denying that the designated hitter role would be a reason to move to the American League, “‘I want to play third base,’ he said. ‘I’ll play first base some, but I don’t want to DH'” (Michael Hurcomb, CBSSports.com). It sounds like Sandoval wants to be a big contributor on defense as much as offense for the Red Sox. “Sandoval added he didn’t let the [San Francisco] Giants make a final offer because he wanted to go to a new team and wanted a new challenge. He even admitted he ‘left more money on the table'” (Hurcomb, CBSSports).
There is no secret about Sandoval’s well-documented bat, but his glove has also been impressive. Sandoval’s fielding percentage was .971 in 2014, making 11 errors in just over 1 265 innings. There were 17 other third basemen in Major League Baseball whom had a higher total of errors. In late July 2014, Mark Simon of ESPN.com wrote that Sandoval’s “good play/misplay ratio of better than 3 to 1 is the best among third basemen. The next closest is Anthony Rendon of the Nationals at 2.2 to 1. The average third baseman has a ratio only slightly better than 1 to 1.” Sandoval clearly put in the work at the third base position and looked to have lost weight last off-season to show off his athleticism, making him more ‘Kung Fu’ than ‘Panda’ last season.
Giants bench coach Ron Wotus stated, “Pablo is someone who has always worked extremely hard on his defense and he pays a lot of attention to detail. He’s very athletic for his body type. He’s always had the skills” (Simon, ESPN.com). Those words do not suggest a man looking to hide on the bench in the American League, simply to do more hitting.
So why the question?
Well, at 5’11”, his 245 pounds of girth gets people talking, when it is in motion. Is that really fair? The 28-year-old Venezuelan deserves a bit more credit. So-called experts see a larger man playing defense and they assume that he cannot move his feet fast enough. Fair enough that he has had problems early in his career, but the third base position relies a great deal on hand-eye coordination and reflexes, as balls are launched right at you, slightly further into the infield than any other position, especially if a righty batter is up. Between bunts along the baseline and hotshots ready to take your head off, the third baseman is often asked to put his body on the line to make the play. Hardly a position for the weak-willed.
With the money the Red Sox are paying Sandoval, expect him to start. Since he has proven his talent at the position, and Mike Napoli undoubtedly will be playing first base, get used to seeing Sandoval playing third base a great deal. Besides, Sandoval may have a hot bat, but it will be a while before Red Sox Nation will want to see anyone other than Ortiz smiling at the plate in the DH role.