The Pittsburgh Pirates finally made the long-expected move of trading closer Joel Hanrahan, sending the two-time all-star to the Boston Red Sox. While the deal is not yet complete, we do know that two of the players heading to the Steel City are first baseman/outfielder Jerry Sands and right-handed pitcher Stolmy Pimentel.
Sands came out of nowhere (well, technically out of a small North Carolina college and the 25th round in 2008) to emerge as a notable prospect, thanks to a 2010 season in which he hit 35 home runs between the Low-A Midwest League and the Double-A Southern League. At 22, he was old for the former and about right for the latter. Sands followed up his breakout season by posting a .931 OPS in Triple-A (in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League) before a major league call-up.
In the majors, Sands has not displayed the same power he did in the minors, hitting just four home runs in 227 plate appearances in 2011 and none in 24 more in 2012.
Sands received relatively consistent playing time during his first call-up but has yet to get another real opportunity. The Dodgers decided that Sands was not a part of their future plans and shipped him to Boston this summer.
Sands continued to dominate the PCL again this year, demonstrating that his power is real. The question is if that power will translate into major league production.
Many have suggested the idea of using the right-handed hitting Sands as a part of a platoon, meaning he would face primarily left-handed pitching, but there are some conflicting numbers both supporting and negating that idea.
In his brief stint in the majors, Sands has hit .316/.372/.532 in 86 plate appearances against lefties versus .204/.301/.289 versus righties. That's a drastic difference in production, but its small sample size leaves it somewhat inconclusive. Further leading to the confusion is that in his final two minor league seasons (both in Triple-A), Sands actually had a reverse platoon split, meaning he hit righties better than lefties.
In 2011-12, Sands posted an .852 OPS against minor league lefties and a .939 OPS against righties.
So which is the true Sands? Does he have a platoon split at all, and if so, to which side?
Sands' power is evident and the Pirates are desperately in need of another right-handed power bat to complement the left-handedness of their offense. They already have one platoon, at first base with Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez, and while Sands could easily full Sanchez's role, the Pirates seem committed to him.
The other option is in the outfield, as a platoon partner with Travis Snider. The issue is that, in Snider and Sands, the Pirates have two corner outfielders with power potential who are looking to get regular at-bats for the first time in their career. A platoon option with Snider seems likely, with Sands stealing some at-bats from Sanchez if Sanchez struggles and/or Snider proves to be able to hit lefties.
As for Sands, he will hit some home runs, but PNC Park has proven to be a difficult place for righties to fulfill their power potential (Andrew McCutchen notwithstanding). Sands has demonstrated solid walk rates in the minors, so if all of the Pirates mediocre options struggle similarly, Sands could still prove to be the best offensive option.
There's also the chance that the Pirates could move one of their first base/corner outfield options, although the player most likely to move, and with the most trade value, is Garrett Jones, and that would leave the Pirates with only Clint Robinson as a left-handed bat at first.
If given a chance to play, Sands will hit for moderate power, but likely not enough to make him even a league average first baseman. If his at-bats come in the outfield, there's a chance he hits for enough power to be a league average player.