Can Jerry Sands Earn His Keep on the Rays’ Roster?

By Peter M. Gordon

Sabermetric guru Bill James said that minor league statistics can reliably  predict major leagues success. The main difference between the majors and Triple-A is that  the majors have more good players than the  minors. However, a player who hits well in the minors should be able to hit in the majors, and a pitcher who gets batters out at Triple-A should be able to get them out in the majors. The players may not perform as well in the majors as the minors, but they should be able to compete.

Which brings us to Jerry Sands. The Rays might have sent Sands down when Brandon Guyer was activated, but David DeJesus‘ trip to the disabled list meant there was still a roster spot for Sands. Sands hit well for most of his minor league career.  In 2011, his first year with Triple-A Albuquerque for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sands hit to a .278/.344/.586 line with 29 homers in only 96 games.  The Dodgers brought him to the big club for 61 games, where he managed a .253/.338/.389 line with 4 home runs.  His power stats didn’t meet expectations, but as a 23 year-old who proved he could hit major league pitching, the Dodgers might have expected Sands to develop.

Then those same Dodgers proceeded to never give him a chance. Sands only played 8 games in 2012, hitting .200, before the Dodgers demoted him back to Albuquerque. The 24 year-old Sands hit .296 with 26 home runs and 107 RBIs in 119 games.  Then the Dodgers, under new management, preferred to trade for high-priced veterans like Adrian Gonzalez, in their effort to overtake the San Francisco Giants. They traded Sands to the Boston Red Sox, who then sent him to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates kept him in Triple-A (Indianapolis this time) and for the first time in the minors, Sands failed to hit.  He hit .207 with only 7 home runs and then put Sands on waivers, and Rays management astutely claimed him during the off season.

Why astutely? Because Jerry Sands is only 26 and can still hit. He hit .324 in spring training with three home runs. He hit 9 home runs at Durham before the Rays brought him up. His back-to-back game winning pinch hits earlier this week marked the first time since 1990 that an AL batter had achieved this feat.  He’s only hitting .222 for the season in limited appearances, but we have already seen the promise and his minor league success suggests that he will continue to improve. Of course there are minor league stars who don’t perform well at the major league level.  Josh Lueke, a minor league relief whiz, performed so poorly that the Rays designated him for assignment earlier this season.  However, Jerry Sands is beginning to show that even if he can’t excel at the major league level like he did in the minors, he has the ability to contribute. On a Rays roster where hits have been hard to come by, Sands has the ability to be a valuable piece of the roster.