Giants prospect Q&A: Pablo Sandoval

While the signing of Dominican-born Angel Villalona was widely seen as a sea-change for the San Francisco Giants, who have invested little in (and gotten even less out of) international scouting, the much quieter signing of then-16-year-old Venezuelan Pablo Sandoval in 2003 may yield big-league returns first. We talk with the catcher about what he's working on in his return to San Jose this year.

After being recognized as San Jose's Offensive Player of the Year in 2007, when the switch-hitter posted a .287/.312/.487 line, Pablo Sandoval seemed likely to get a promotion this year. But with manager and former big-league catcher Steve Decker joining the Cal League club, Sandoval – who had played just 93 games behind the plate entering the year – the Giants' player development team held him back to hone his receiving skills and get acclimated to the daily grind of catching.

Sandoval is off to a torrid start at the plate, hitting .459 with nine extra-base hits through his first nine games, and he has even drawn three walks, putting him well ahead of his career pace. However, behind the plate, he's still working on putting the lessons to work. In seven starts behind the plate, he has two errors, and one passed ball, but he has continued to flash a strong arm by throwing out 50 percent of would-be stealers.

Most in the organization agree that the switch-hitting Sandoval, who won't turn 22 until August, has just started to tap into his potential both at the plate and behind it. We talked with him about working with Decker and learning what it takes to become a big-leaguer.

Q: You're here in San Jose to work with manager and former catcher Steve Decker. How is that going and what are you working on?
Pablo Sandoval: It's going really well. I work with him all the time. He's helping me out on my defense, my footwork, my throws to second, and blocking balls in the dirt. I can see myself getting better everyday since we started.

Q: Has he changed your mechanics a lot behind the plate?
Sandoval: Yes, he's helped me learn to square my feet, work on my body position, calling a good game, and everything else. He's helping me do all the things I need to do to get to the bigs. I first started working with him two years ago and I love having him as my manager now.

Q: As one of three remaining players from last year's squad, how have you developed as a leader?
Sandoval: Well, I'm only 21 and one of the youngest guys here, but I like to help everyone. I play with a lot of emotion and try to encourage my teammates. I'm from Latin America and that's how we play down there. Every time I go out, I want to help my teammates get better.

Q: You were injured last week and sat out for a few days. How are you feeling now?
Sandoval: It was on a home plate collision and the player hit me pretty hard. I had a little problem with my wrist but it's better now. I'm 120% ready to go. I'm really excited to get back out there and help the team.

Q: What adjustments have you made with the bat?
Sandoval: My concentration and my patience. I'm learning to guess what pitches are coming and learning to wait for the one I want. I'm hitting the ball a lot harder now.

Q: Who is your favorite player?
Sandoval: Luis Aparicio. He was from Venezuela and opened the gates for us to be here. He was the first player from South America to make the Hall of Fame. I really love the way he played and his work ethic. He played just like Omar Vizquel does today. I played with Vizquel in Spring Training this year. He plays with heart, he's gritty, and gives you everything he's got when he goes out there.

Q: You've worn the same number, 35, since you came into the organization. Is there any significance behind it?
Sandoval: My mom was 35 when I first got signed. I love my mom a lot so I picked it for her. I've worn it every year since. My family has really helped me a lot.

Q: What's the best advice you could give to someone who wants to play pro ball?
Sandoval: Work hard and you can do it. If you keep doing everything you can to make the team, you will make it.

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