Pablo Sandoval signed a contract with the Giants when he was a mere lad of sixteen. You can do that when you are a foreigner and not part of the MLB amateur draft. I understand the new CBA is supposed to do something about drafting international players, but I've made no effort to understand it. Seems like the draft is a bit of an anachronism in this age of free agency. Ballplayers ought to able to sign with any team they would like. If it's a competitive balance thing, then regulate signing bonuses so not everyone will get bought by the Yankees, and/or limit the number of free agents that can be signed in any one season by any individual team. But that's one of those discussions that needs some research and this is my goddamn holiday. And the amateur draft has worked out well for the local lads lately, wouldn't you say? Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Sergio Romo, Brian Wilson, Nate Schierholtz, and of course Matt Cain, whose turn is tomorrow. But the Round Mound of Pound, the Kung-Fu Panda himself, was an amateur free agent. Being from Venezuela, he had to be scouted and signed down there. Venezuela, of course, has a rich history of ML players, especially shortstops. Luis Aparicio, Chico Carrasquel, Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen, and Omar Vizquel all manned the six-spot. Cesar Izturis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Alcides Escobar are continuing that tradition. B-R says that there are 270 guys born in Venezuela who've seen time in The Show.
Pablo, we may have forgotten, signed as a catcher, and donned the tools of ignorance a dozen times in his debut season. (Catching prospect Hector Sanchez is also from Venezuela.) When he found his spot on the diamond--the hot corner--things began to fall into place for him. His 2009 season put him on the NL map and made him one of the most popular players ever in San Francisco. 318 TB and a .330 BA will do that. Being only 23 and suddenly famous, Pablo struggled mightily in 2010 despite the Giants winning the World Series. Note that Juan Uribe got the bulk of the time at 3B in the post-season. We need to be reminded sometimes that ballplayers are people, too. Sandoval clearly had personal issues and lacked a bit of maturity in his second full season. He seemed to put that behind him in 2011 and demonstrated a new level of fitness and commitment to his craft that certainly paid off. Injuries (a familiar refrain) limited him to only 117 games and 466 plate appearances, but The Panda still racked up a .909 OPS (153 OPS+) that rated a .379 wOBA and 5.5 WAR. Sorting FanGraphs for 450+ PA, he places 14th in wOBA and 11th in WAR (sandwiched between Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols).
We've been hearing a lot of hollering from the faithful about the need for a real bat in the Giants lineup. I submit to you one 25-year old from Puerto Cabello, Carabobo. This lad is a real hitter. And he can pick it at third, that we also saw last season. In short, we have a superstar on our hands. I'm expecting very, very, big things from the Panda in 2012. Good thing the Giants saved some money because I expect he'll get a raise in arbitration. He's eligible for free agency in 2015.