The more that I collect catchers, the more that I dig into the history of the position. I have discovered a lot about those who have worn the “Tools of Ignorance.” One of the aspects of my research that I have enjoyed the most, is learning about players that were known for playing a certain position (like OF) but started out as a catcher.
For this series of posts, I will focus on a well-known player that debuted as a catcher, but later had success at a different position. I will try to stay away from the more obvious references like Craig Biggio.
For this installment, I decided to focus on a current player, whose time behind the dish may surprise you, considering that his physique would belie time spent at such a demanding position. And while Giants fans may not be surprised, I was taken aback when I found out.
In 2004, a 17 year old catcher by the name of Pablo Emilio Sandoval debuted for the Azl Giants, the rookie league farm team of the San Francisco Giants. That summer, Sandoval played 46 games for Azl, 33 of which were spent catching.
Stats: .277/.287/.373 with 26 RBI’s.
Notable information: His caught stealing percentage for 2004 was 30%.
In 2005, Sandoval had been promoted to the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, the Short Season A affiliate for the Giants. Though he played in 75 games, Sandoval was catcher in only one of those games, while the other 70 plus games featured him at 3rd base.
Stats: .330/.383/.425 with 3 HR’s and 50 RBI’s
Normally, the story would end there, as Sandoval didn’t play catcher in 2006. However, in 2007, Sandoval was back behind the dish.
That year, Sandoval was in the Advanced A league, playing for the San Jose Giants. Of the 102 games in which he played, Sandoval was catcher in 59.
Stats: .287/.312/.476 with 11 HR’s and 52 RBI’s.
Notable information: His caught stealing percentage was 51%.
In 2008, Sandoval started the season in San Jose, and by season’s end, he was hitting in the middle of the lineup in San Francisco. His rapid progression through the minor league system was due mainly to his offensive production, though he had shown a lot of development as a defensive catcher.
Upon starting the research for this post, I assumed that Pablo’s move to 3rd was a result of Buster Posey. What I didn’t realize, however, was that Posey wasn’t even drafted until 2008, and though he was picked #5 overall, his ascension to the majors had not yet begun.
Notice who is at bat here?
It would be a bit misleading if I failed to mention that Sandoval didn’t jump from A ball to the majors. He did play 44 games for the Connecticut Defenders, the AA affiliate for the Giants. Of the 112 minor league games he played in that year, he started at catcher in 83 of them.
2008 Minor League Stats: .350/.395/.578 with 20 HR’s and 96 RBI’s.
On August 14, 2008, Sandoval made his major league debut playing catcher, as the Giants took on the Houston Astros.
Over the course of the final 41 games of the season, Sandoval would catch 11 of them.
It was clear by Opening Day of 2009, that “Kung Fu Panda” would be a part of the starting lineup, though not at catcher. Instead, he would be playing 3rd base, though he was still considered the backup catcher until an elbow injury in late May ended his major league catching career.