Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval’s defense remains a concern

Feb 24, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox infielder Pablo Sandoval (48) fields a ground ball during the workout at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2016; Lee County, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox infielder Pablo Sandoval (48) fields a ground ball during the workout at Jet Blue Park. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval has taken heat for his disappointing performance at the plate, but it’s his defense that has been more of a concern this spring.

Here we thought that it was going to be Hanley Ramirez that we had to worry about in the infield.

All eyes have been on the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox this spring as he adapts to another new position following a disastrous attempt last year to convert him into an outfielder, but so far Ramirez has managed fairly well at first base. There are bound to be some bumps in the road for him, but it hasn’t been the horror show that many of us feared. It’s his teammate across the diamond that has been struggling to field his position.

Pablo Sandoval has primarily been a third baseman for his entire 8 year career, but you’d never know it from watching him this spring. He has looked shaky at the hot corner, struggling to charge grounders and bobbling several of the ones he does get his hands on.

In the fourth inning of Monday’s Grapefruit League game against the Pittsburgh Pirates we saw Sandoval bobble a ball that he scooped with his backhand, forcing him to rush into a poor throw to first that Ramirez managed to pick out of the dirt to prevent any damage. Later that inning Sandoval mishandled another grounder that led to his third error of the spring.

These miscues wouldn’t be quite as concerning if it weren’t for the fact that he’s coming off of a horrific season in the field. We hear a lot of talk about Sandoval’s disappointing production at the plate, given that he was signed to a lucrative deal primarily for his bat, only for him to respond with a career-low .245 batting average and .658 OPS. As bad as that looks, it pales in comparison to his ugly defensive production.

Sandoval committed 15 errors last year, putting him near the middle of the pack at his position, but that doesn’t tell the full story. His .949 fielding percentage ranked 10th out of the 12 qualified third basemen in the American League and his -11 defensive runs saved was the worst mark in the majors at his position.

Much of the blame for Sandoval’s poor defense was put on his expanding waist line, but it’s not as if he’s ever been slim. The difference last year was that he’s starting to lose the agility that was once so impressive for a man his size. He isn’t likely to get that back as he approaches his 30th birthday, so this could end up getting worse. So far this spring Sandoval is looking to be a step too slow, even by his standards.

"“My first step, that’s what I’ve been focused on. That’s what I’ve been working hard on every morning with [Brian Butterfield] out there,” Sandoval told reporters following Monday’s game, per “Try to get first step, keep it simple, glove presentation out there. That’s what I’m looking for.”"

The Red Sox are looking for a competent third baseman that won’t embarrass himself at the hot corner and if they can’t find that in Sandoval then they’ll have to look elsewhere. Travis Shaw is quickly gaining admirers after following up a surprising second half last season with a torrid spring, while All-Star Brock Holt is also capable of manning third base.

Sandoval claims he’s gaining confidence in the field, but it’s difficult for the Red Sox to have confidence in him at this point. With manager John Farrell on the hot seat he can’t afford to allow Sandoval’s paycheck to be the only reason to keep him off the bench.

Next: Bullpen hinges on Koji Uehara

He’s going to get another shot to be the everyday third baseman for the Red Sox this season, but Sandoval better not bobble it.