Posted on February 10, 2017 by Bryan Zarpentine
All across Florida and Arizona, major leaguers are starting to report to team facilities with the official start of spring training less than a week away. One of the early arrivers at Boston Red Sox camp is third baseman Pablo Sandoval. The man San Francisco Giants fans know affectionally as Kung Fu Panda has been persona non grata with most Red Sox fans following a dreadful 2015 season during his first year in Boston and a 2016 season in which Sandoval made just seven plate appearances. However, Sandoval has made a strong first impression with his teammates and coaches in 2017.
Not only has Sandoval arrived early to camp after being one of the last Red Sox players to arrive a year ago, but everyone who has seen him has remarked what great shape he appears to be in. According to MLB.com, Sandoval is listed at 5′ 11” and 255 pounds, but some who have seen him believe he may have lost as much as 30 pounds during the offseason. Coming to camp slimmed down is a sign that Sandoval is serious about putting the past two years behind him and earning the five-year, $90 million contract the Red Sox gave him prior to the 2015 season.
To be fair, Sandoval hinted back in December that he was making changes after recognizing how far he’d fallen since his days with the Giants. “My career had fallen into an abyss because I was so complacent with things that I had already accomplished,” Sandoval told ESPN in December. “I did not work hard in order to achieve more and to remain at the level of the player that I am and that I can be.”
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In December, Sandoval also said that he had changed his diet and exercise routine to get himself in shape. “I have been following a really strict routine that has taken a lot of dedication from my part,” he shared. “It has not been easy to wake up every single day at 6:30 in the morning to then head to the gym and start a full day of work. But you have to have that kind of dedication if you want to achieve the goals you have set for yourself.”
His hard work and slimmer appearance have not gone unnoticed by his teammates. “He worked his tail off and you can definitely tell,” said center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. when asked about Sandoval. “I’m happy to see him. I’m happy to see him happy. I’m glad to see his smile and his energy back. You can tell he has a chip on his shoulder.”
Members of the Red Sox coaching staff have also noticed the work Sandoval has put in over the winter. “I was glad to see Pablo out here,” said bench coach Gary DiSarcina. “He looked good, a lot of energy. I’m anxious to see what he looks like once we get going and get to know him better”
The Red Sox managed to win a competitive AL East division a year ago without Sandoval, but with David Ortiz retiring, Sandoval is one of the players who needs to step up to help replace Big Papi’s production. “One of the keys for us is going to be Panda,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said earlier this offseason. “That’s not to put it all on him, but here’s a left-handed bat who is a proven guy and has every opportunity to make a major impact on our team this year.”
With Travis Shaw being traded to the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this winter, Sandoval will have every chance to reclaim the starting job at third base. The Red Sox have some alternatives at the hot corner in Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge, Mike Olt, and possibly even Hanley Ramirez, but Boston would prefer Sandoval to claim the job for himself. If his slimmer appearance at camp is any indication, Sandoval appears ready to do just that.