Kung Fu Panda 2: Return of the Beast

Panda only chews sugar-free bubble gum now.
Pablo Sandoval was right there in the thick of it a couple years ago. He wasn't eligible for Rookie of the Year, but instead was stuck simply contending for the batting title in 2009, and finished the year leading the Giants in almost every offensive category.

This was taken in August, 2009. Basically, without Sandoval, the Giants would have Bengie Molina as their sole source of offense. Oh wait, that kind of happened anyways. Moving on.

Headed into 2010, Giants fans had been briefed in full on the exploits of Camp Panda, and how it was going to galvanize the Round Mound of Pound into action, putting to rest the rumors that Barry Zito could just safely hide behind him when Prince Fielder charged the mound.

What us fans ended up seeing was a version of Sandoval that looked more like an actual panda. Sedentary, pretty big, and not really looking like he knew what to do with a bat in his hand. His glove was significantly slower, and although he wasn't down to Bengie Molina slowness, his speed was downgraded from "surprising for his size" to "expected from a 330-pound bear that eats 30 pounds of bamboo every day."

His stats dipped. Considerably. Power numbers disappeared, average dropped 60 points, and he set the record for most times grounded into a double play (26). With Buster Posey tearing it up and the pitching dominating everyone in sight, Pablo Sandoval was no longer considered part of that youthful core that he was supposedly leading into the next decade of Giants baseball.

Instead, he was benched in the post-season. With hindsight being what it is, that actually opened up the door for Edgar Renteria to make everything right in the universe, but still. For the Giants to lose a middle-of-the-order hitter was nothing to just brush aside. But that was bailed out by production from Huff and Ross and Burrell and everything was smoothed over, to an extent.

That extent, however did not go much further than the end of the season. It took only a couple weeks for Giants management to put the Panda's future with the team on the line, saying that they'd even go as far as to have him start in AAA Fresno if he wasn't ready by Spring Training.

Say what you want to about how he plays his cards as close to the vest as he can with trades and free-agent signings, but Brian Sabean definitely knows how to send his players a message. And this one got through to Sandoval very quickly. Despite whatever limitations his English might have, Sandoval heard "Pablo" and "Fresno" in the same sentence, and he understood.

This offseason, there was no Camp Panda, but instead a hardcore training regimen that lasted the entire offseason, not just the month of November. And Sandoval came out of it visibly more in shape. Given that the numbers won't really show it in terms of weight, the Giants training staff has gone so far to say that Sandoval shed over 30 pounds of fat, and it has showed.

In Spring Training this year, the comments are flying all around that his first step fielding has improved, and he's making plays that he wouldn't have been able to make last year. He scored from first base on a triple by Nate Schierholtz and didn't need oxygen afterwards. And he's already made more solid contact in two weeks than he did the entire post-season.

If he comes back into the lineup in 2011 and continues what he's started this spring, the Giants will have a better offense than people will ever give them credit for. Imagine a middle of the order that goes Huff-Posey-Burrell/DeRosa-Sandoval. Sure, there's no Pujols or Teixeira in there, but that's a lot of .290AVG/20HR/80RBI guys in a row.

Sandoval is a big key to the Giants 2011 title defense. If Huff decides that he actually doesn't like to hit, and Posey decides that he wants to bat cross-handed for half the year just to see how it feels, the offensive slack is going to have to be picked up. This year Pablo Sandoval is in shape to pick up that slack and run with it for a little bit.


  1. I was looking forward to last night's televised game to check out Panda myself. He definitely looks leaner, not as sluggish, and there's more spring in his step. I loved Kuip's comment about how Sandoval lost the equivalent of two one-and-a-half year olds. Of course, Panda then went on to boot a grounder (granted semi-tough hop) that he should have had. At bat, he didn't reduce his pre-batting routine along with his weight but he looks like he's doing a better job of pitch selection and being patient. Be interesting to see what he's like after a couple more weeks of spring training and adjusting to his new weight and muscle tone.

    You're right though, we need Panda's 2009 bat and not the 2010 version.

  2. I agree. He looked a lot different. Just in how he holds himself too. There's less belly jiggling around when he was moving around. Kuip's comment was great, especially when they found the footage of that kid running around and he says "Yep. Two and half of those."

    He is looking a lot more patient, and is just making a lot more solid contact. Even when he tapped out in one of his at-bats, he ran it out and wasn't slacking down the line either.

  3. Just got back from Scottsdale, and saw 3 games while I was there. Sandoval looks to be in much better shape, less gut more shoulders and it has definitely improved his reflexes so that 3rd base all year seems a foregone conclusion if he can hit. And as Evan notes, he has been hitting. Time will tell, but the early returns look very promising.

  4. I'm not one to read too much into Spring Training, but I feel that Spring Training numbers for hitters are much more of an indicator than Spring numbers for pitchers. Pitchers are always tinkering with mechanics or trying out a new pitch, but hitters are pretty consistent year round. Good to know Sandoval feels and looks good in person though.

  5. Evan.....Outstanding report. Not only were you able to give a full circle representation of Sandoval ( 2008 - 2011 ) but very efficient as well. I read where Pablo even stole second base in a game. Some of his improvements may not jump right out at everyone right away , but if every aspect of his game gets better his recovery will have become complete and potentially dangerous for all opponents MLB 2011. All signs are pointing in that direction from everything that I have read. Very exciting to be a Giant fan, with Pablo & Brandon Belt performing so outstanding out of the gate this 2011 Cactus League.