Contributing Writer Bryan Mauro (@threecolorbeard)
When the Red Sox traded for Sandy Leon at the beginning of the 2015 season, no one imagined what was about to happen. The Red Sox made the trade because Sandy is a fantastic defensive catcher, and knows how to handle a pitching staff. However, he is not going to light the world on fire at the plate. His liability offensively is actually the main reason he was never able to stick in the league.
Fast-forward to 2016, and what Sandy Leon has been able to accomplish has been surprising for everyone in the Red Sox organization. Sandy has been as advertised behind the plate and is doing a great job with this pitching staff. He is great at controlling the running game as well. He has also been a force at the plate this year as well.
Keep in mind this is the first year of Sandy’s career that he has been an everyday player that could contribute to some of the offensive prowess. His career numbers before this year are a minute 75 games. In those games, he was a career .186 hitter, with 1 homer with 8 RBIs.
So, what did Sandy change? You won’t notice much of a change when looking at Sandy at the plate, as his batting stance is unchanged. However, you can tell by watching him that his pitch recognition and his overall approach at the plate have changed. He is now taking his walks and swinging at more strikes. I was never a great hitter in my short baseball career, however when you swing at strikes it makes sense that you would be putting the ball in play more.
Sandy has also been really good this year about putting himself into hitters’ counts, which is leading to him seeing a lot more fastballs. He is taking those fastballs and driving them to the gaps and over the wall. That power may be the most surprising thing about Sandy this year. In his brief stint in the MLB before this year, he had virtually no power. No doubles, no homeruns. He was just a singles hitter who didn’t do that often either.
Sandy credits his turnaround to the summer he spent playing in his native Venezuela under the wing of former MLB shortstop and Manager Ozzie Guillien. Ozzie worked with him all summer on his pitch recognition and laying off of bad pitches. Obviously, it has really paid off and everyone is taking notice. After all, Chili Davis did call him “The Greatest Hitter That Ever Lived.”
Now, do I think that Sandy Leon will hit close to .400 all year? No, but I think a reasonable expectation is for Sandy to hit around .250 for the remaining 35 games. He hits around .250 and pops out another homerun or two, which would be more than the Red Sox could have bargained for. Sandy has been worth every penny the Red Sox traded for him. I hope this continues, as he has helped place the Red Sox in the division hunt, as well as help them lead the wildcard. The turnaround he has made to this pitching staff is expected, which was why he was recalled originally. It has been so much fun to watch him hit this year. He is having one of the more fun seasons I can ever remember watching as a Red Sox fan. If Sandy accomplishes nothing else in his baseball career, he should never forget this year. I know the Nation of Red Sox fans won’t.