Sandoval becoming fixture at third
Giants phenom brings steady presence to unsettled spot
SAN FRANCISCO -- As a former Giants third baseman entered the home clubhouse Thursday at AT&T Park, the team's current one sped by on a blue electric scooter, navigating around tables and laundry and, well, teammates.In town to face his old friends, the Philadelphia Phillies' Pedro Feliz then shook hands with Pablo Sandoval, past meeting what San Francisco fans hope to be long-term future. The Giants haven't had the same starting third baseman for four straight Opening Days since Bill Mueller (1997-2000). In fact, they've had five different starters on the season's first day in the nine years since, spanning from Russ Davis in 2001 to veterans Feliz, Edgardo Alfonzo and Jose Castillo. Now, there's a young, up-and-coming infielder under team control through the 2014 season. Sandoval not only holds the team lead in home runs (15), RBIs (59) and batting average (.329) but has made just five errors through 70 games at third base. That explains why those in the organization's front office wouldn't mind seeing the Kung Fu Panda disembark the mini vehicles in the meantime. That includes vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans, who has enjoyed watching Sandoval as much as the next Giants executive but sees no reason for historic juxtaposition -- at least to Feliz, 34. "Feliz was not an easy guy for us to see go [after the 2007 season]," Evans said. "Pedro gave us 20 home runs and 80 RBIs again and again. The only thing he didn't give us, that Pablo can, is maybe a higher on-base percentage and batting average." Feliz batted .252 and hit 109 homers while spending parts of eight seasons at the big league level with the Giants. The organization signed him as a 19-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in 1994. He's batted a career-high .294 this season with the Phillies, the team he jumped to in 2008 for a two-year free-agent contract. But no one's pretending he equates to the 22-year-old Sandoval, a Venezuelan who, when answering questions, constantly reminds reporters he's still in his first full season at the Major League level. "You don't have to compare [Sandoval to others] to see his value," Evans said. "He stands alone. "To bring Pablo up here and to see him make the adjustment of playing third base every day, it bodes well for the organization." Sandoval's stoutness (5-foot-11, 245 pounds) has raised concerns about his ability to stick at his preferred position. He's also played first base (while his sore elbow healed) and made three starts at catcher (when the Giants chose to go without a true backup on its roster), but Evans said those in the boardroom view Sandoval as the team's third baseman of the future. "There's no reason why not," Evans said. "He just has to condition himself to play the position in the offseason." There weren't as many concerns for the slimmer Feliz during his tenure in San Francisco. Feliz, who homered in his first game against the Giants last season, has been impressed with his younger replacement from afar. "He's been great for their team. I'm happy for him," said Feliz. "It's the timing, you know. He got the chance, and he's doing what he's supposed to be doing."
Andrew Pentis is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.