The Devil Rays saw third baseman Jared Sandberg on the board in the 16th round of the 1996 MLB Draft, the first draft in the history of the young franchise. They were thrilled. Sandberg had the bloodlines- he was the nephew of at that point future Hall of Fame second baseman Ryne Sandberg. They hoped that he could crack the big leagues and play well, and if he didn’t, he was just a 16th round pick anyway.
The D-Rays had to be at least a little distraught when Sandberg hit just .169 in 22 games in 1996 with the rookie-level GCL Devil Rays. But suddenly Sandberg broke out the following season at the more advanced Rookie team in Princeton, posting a great .303/.404/.583 line in 69 games. He showed nice power, slamming 15 doubles, 5 triples, and 17 home runs while driving in 70, and he also showed nice speed, stealing 12 of 15 bases. One concern was that Sandberg did strike out 96 times versus 44 walks. But it was a nice season and the Rays hoped he could sustain that type of performance. Unfortunately, he could not.
Sandberg spent 1998, his age 20 season, primarily at Low-A Charleston, and he dipped to a .245/.349/.407 line with 26 doubles, 15 homers, and 79 RBI in 129 games. He did steal 17 of 20 bases, but the strikeouts were a major problem as he struck out 152 times versus 69 walks. But the next season, Sandberg showed some improvement, posting a .276/.350/.458 line with 24 doubles, 22 homers, 96 RBI, and 8 of 10 stolen bases in 136 games. He cut the strikeouts down to a better 133, although his walks fell to 51.
In 2000 between Double-A Orlando and Triple-A Durham, Sandberg played pretty well but played in just 70 games because of injuries, managing a .266/.350/.425 line with 18 doubles, 7 homers, 42 RBI, and 5 of 8 stolen bases, striking out 61 times versus 33 walks. (Presumably the injury was a lower-body injury as Sandberg was never a stolen base threat again.) But in 2001, Sandberg spent the year primarily at Durham and played pretty well, posting a .243/.338/.440 line with 18 doubles, 17 homers, 54 RBI, and 91 strikeouts versus 44 walks. The Devil Rays brought him up to the major leagues in August and it didn’t go particularly well as he hit just .206 with 7 doubles, 1 homer, and 15 RBI in 39 games posting a scary 45-10 strikeout to walk ratio.
In 2001, the D-Rays started Sandberg at Triple-A and he played well in 30 games, posting a .281/.369/.465 line, and the D-Rays brought Sandberg back up. Sandberg’s line was just .229/.305/.444 and he struck out 139 times, the 5th-most in the AL despite just 102 games, and he walked just 39 games. But he showed nice power, slamming 21 doubles and 18 homers while driving in 54 and defensively at third base, Sandberg played well. Sandberg joined Aubrey Huff in 2002 as the first two Devil Rays homegrown players to hit 18 or more home runs in a season.
Sandberg was back on the team to begin the 2003 season at age 25, and he didn’t exactly get off to a staggering start in 55 games, but he was doing a bunch of things, posting a .213/.305/.434 line with 10 doubles, 6 homers, 23 RBI, and even better defense at third base. However, the Rays grew impatient with him and sent him down back down to Durham. Sandberg bounced around from the Rays organization to the Red Sox to the Astros to the Indians to the Royals before retiring after the 2007 season at age 29.
Jared Sandberg was a player the Devil Rays probably drafted just for his name. But he had a chance to be a much better player than he became. He hit for power, played great defense, and had an excellent baseball IQ. He was a power hitter who laid down 5 sac bunts without a single unsuccessful one because the team asked him to. He endured injuries and the speed part of his game disappeared, but he kept fighting. If the Rays got a player like Sandberg today, they would firstly try to get him to be a lot more patient at the plate, but even if that didn’t work, he had the ability to be a good utilityman thanks to the tools he did have. It just didn’t work out for Sandberg.
Sandberg has now managed in the Rays organization the past four years, first with the Advanced Rookie Princeton Rays and then with the Short Season-A Hudson Valley Renegades. Sandberg is now 119-110 including 7-4 in 2012. He is sharing his baseball knowledge with the prospects he manages and tries to help each of them become the player that he could never be.