Four minor leaguers hit 35 or more home runs in 2010. Just two of them were under the age of 23 and had 250+ plate appearances above High-A: Mike Moustakas and Jerry Sands.
Built like a tight end, he's big, strong and cut. If you saw Sands in and big league clubhouse, he'd still look big. He's patient and makes more contact than a lot of power hitters. He can take pitchers deep with upper body strength alone.
I had a chance to see Sands play three times earlier this month in the Arizona Fall League. Everyone at the AFL is tired. But the league still gives onlookers a chance to get a glimpse of what makes guys special and what they may struggle with down the road.
I tried to give every AFL player a clean slate. Forget when they were drafted or how they've produced in the minors. How do they look right now?
On the plus side, Sands showed a good feel for bringing his hands to the ball. I didn't see his swing as being too grooved. He was able to adjust to pitches based on location. Pitchers who mixed speeds, however, caused him trouble.
A product of Division II Catawba College in North Carolina, Sands showed an inefficient, disjointed swing. Starting open, he took a big stride that forced him to lean his torso back to find balance. His hips drifted forward then twisted open along with his shoulders. Because of his long stride, he didn't give himself much time to plant his front leg and leverage off of it. He has decent bat speed but he gets by more on strength than quickness.
Though he is patient, Sands didn't put himself in a good position to drive off-speed pitches. He occasionally buckled on good breaking balls and seldom made loud contact. He fought himself with his swing mechanics; his upper body and lower body out of sync. He wasn't in a good position to drive pitches that he wasn't expecting.
Defensively, Sands could be adequate at first base. The Dodgers had him taking some infield at third base, but he looked goofy and out of place there -- stiff with a bad hands and a slow release. While he may look like someone who could handle the outfield, he's slow and heavy-legged. I saw an average and perhaps slightly above-average arm, in limited viewings.
On paper, Sands had an outstanding season. And while the bulk of his AFL hits were singles, his line there still looks good overall. Note that he did have a .348 AFL BABIP -- 54 points higher than his Double-A BABIP.
Sands may not be doomed to struggle against advanced pitching. But he'd be dizzying his muscle memory if he revamped his swing at the age of 23, and I'm not confident that what he's doing now is going to work going forward. I like the size, strength and patience. First basemen just need to hit a ton -- he's glove isn't going to play anywhere else. Sands' 2010 season could easily go on to be his career year as a professional baseball player.
The 2011 Digital Prospect Guide should be out in early January. You can follow Adam on Twitter while you wait.