Rays Juan Sandoval Is One Step Closer to Reaching His Dream

By David Hill

Sometimes, through circumstances entirely beyond their control, am up and coming prospect loses that status. Whether through injury, poor performance, or something else entirely, not every prospect pans out. In the case of Juan Sandoval, he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, getting hit with a shotgun blast in the upper torso and face, leaving him blind in his right eye.

His career on the verge of being over almost before it started, Sandoval worked his way back, relearning how to pitch and field his position with only the one eye. He bounced around in the minor leagues for a few years before finding himself in the Mexican Leagues. Last season, split between the Guerreros de Oaxaca and the Diablos Rojos de Mexico, he put together his best season since he got injured, posting a combined 7-3 record with a 2.97 ERA. He continued his strong performance into the Dominican Winter League, where he caught the attention of Joel Peralta, who sent videos of his pitching to the Rays.

The Rays signed him, and after a look in the major league camp as a non-roster invitee, assigned him to the Montgomery Biscuits. Pitching as the Biscuits’ closer, he had a solid first two months, with a 1-1 record, a 3.14 ERA and 11 saves. That performance got him a promotion to the Durham Bulls, where he made his first appearance in AAA since 2009 for the Huntsville Sounds. He also made his first start since 2007, giving up a run on two hits and a walk in 3.2 innings of work.

Normally, the news that a 32 year old career minor leaguer made it to AAA for the first time in nearly four years would not rate on the interest scale. Yet, Sandoval has the type of backstory that could possibly be movie material if he is able to make the majors. He has come back from an injury that not only threatened his career and his ability to pitch, but could have left him permanently blind in both eyes.

Now, in Durham, Juan Sandoval is one step away from the major leagues. If he makes it to Tampa, he may join Jim Morris as the second Rays pitcher to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to reach his dream in true Hollywood fashion.