Sandoval's versatility shines for Angels
All-purpose player bidding to make club as backup infielder
PHOENIX -- Freddy Sandoval, an all-purpose player whose driving purpose this spring is to carve out a niche on the Angels' roster, discovered early in life that a bad break can become a disguised blessing with a little ingenuity.
A 27-year-old infielder who plays three positions and swings the bat from both sides, Sandoval was 13, in his final year of Little League in his native Tijuana, Mex., when he tumbled over the bag on a double and snapped his left collarbone crashing into the dirt.
"The Little League bags aren't stuck in the ground there," he recalled. "My left foot slid on the bag and I went down. I couldn't do much for a month while the broken collarbone healed."
When he was able to start moving around again, Sandoval couldn't swing a bat from the right side. But he could grab one with his right hand and swing with that arm. It gradually began to feel natural, and when he was able to play again, voila!
A switch-hitter was born.
"My dad was my coach," Sandoval said, "and he told me he'd take me out of the game if I didn't take at-bats from both sides. So I worked at it until I became as comfortable from the left side as the right. I've always taken the same amount of swings every day from both sides."
Moving to San Diego in his youth, Sandoval attended Marian Catholic High School and the University of San Diego, driving the Toreros to West Coast Conference titles in 2002 -- a big year for the club that would draft him -- and 2003.
Taken by the Angels in the eighth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, Sandoval began his climb up the organizational ladder in '05 at Class A Cedar Rapids.
Putting together a superb 2008 season at Triple-A Salt Lake, leading the Pacific Coast League in hits (176) and doubles (45) while batting .335 with 15 homers and 88 RBIs, the organization's Minor League Player of the Year was given his first taste of the big leagues as a September callup.
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Another bad break, this one without benefits, had come earlier in the 2009 season at Salt Lake.
Taking a swing near the end of May at Round Rock, Sandoval tore a left wrist ligament, requiring surgery.
"In the time you're rehabbing," Sandoval said, "you do a lot of thinking, soul searching, about things you take for granted. I decided I would take advantage of each day and let the man upstairs, God, take care of things.
"The competition in this game is ridiculous. There are just so many talented players. You have to do what's best for you. I see this game as an opportunity to have fun. I play it better when I have fun. I play it hard, take every game like it might be my last one, but I know I have to enjoy playing the game to be successful."
Sandoval's selfless attitude has endeared him to teammates such as Brandon Wood along the way.
"Freddy's natural position is third base, and when I was moved there from shortstop, he had to move around and play first and second," Wood said. "He took it as a challenge and was great about it, but that's Freddy.
"We spent the whole winter working out together at the [Tempe] complex, taking ground balls and hitting. He helped me with my swing."
Sandoval's ability to play first, second and third, combined with his switch-hitting skills and speed (30 and 21 steals in successive Minor League seasons), give him a shot at a backup role. He does have Minor League options, however, and would take it in stride if he is returned to the PCL.
"He's in the mix," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "He has the ability to play in the Major Leagues. It's just going to come down to where our depth is toward the end of Spring Training."
Sandoval used his smooth left-handed stroke to drive in the tying run with a two-out, eighth-inning single in the Cactus League opener against the White Sox, producing a 4-4 draw.
While he's focused on his tasks, Sandoval is pulling for Wood to take the third-base job and run with it.
"He's going to open a lot of eyes," Sandoval said. "He's gifted with tremendous natural ability, and he's driven to take advantage of it. His swing is phenomenal. His pop is just ridiculous. He can get jammed and hit one out.
"His confidence level is higher than it's ever been. Brandon always works hard, but I've never seen him work this hard. I feel proud I was there with him all winter. We're both trying to get to the same place, and we're pulling hard for each other. That's the best way to go about it."
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.