You’ll find the name of Dodgers first baseman Jerry Sands peppered all over the leaderboards for the low Class A Midwest League. The 22-year-old with Great Lakes is the MWL’s leading hitter with a .386 average in 140 at-bats, and also leads the circuit in homers (13, which ranks second in the minors), on-base (.456) and slugging percentage (.771) and total bases (108), while ranking second in RBIs (31).
Sands, who played his high school ball in North Carolina, played in college for Division II Catawba (N.C.), where he set school records for homers (61), walks (132) and slugging (.752). However, the righthanded-swinging Sands struggled after entering pro ball as a 25th-round pick in 2008. He hit just .205/.346/.438 in 146 at-bats in his pro debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. After struggling again in a short stint with Great Lakes to start last year, he was sent down to Rookie-level Ogden, where he found his stroke and hit .350/.427/.687, earning a trip back to Great Lakes in August. Sands ended up finishing the 2009 season with a .260/.361/.510 line in 104 at-bats for Great Lakes, and has taken off since returning there this year.
We caught up with Sands Tuesday afternoon, getting his thoughts on the path he’s traveled and the adjustments he’s made to produce his impressive start.
What are your thoughts on the season you’ve been having so far?
“It’s been pretty fun to start out with. The team as a whole is doing real well. I’ve been swinging it pretty well. Just trying to keep it going and hopefully we can clinch a playoff berth in this first-half.”
How did you end up at Catawba?
“I guess I kinda did get overlooked a little bit. I played football and baseball in high school, and I talked to a few different people and the scouts from both didn’t know which one I was going to play. I guess I didn’t make it obvious enough that I kinda wanted to play baseball. I had a guy that played football at Catawba and I had a friend that played baseball at Catawba, and they just told me about the school. I had a few other offers from some smaller schools, but I liked the atmosphere at Catawba. It’s a small school and they gave me an opportunity to play right when I came in as a freshman. So, that’s how I ended up there. I was talking about the chances of actually playing football there, too, but I ended up just playing baseball.”
(Note: Sands, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds, was a linebacker and tight end in football.)
Were you looked at by any of the Division I schools in the state?
“I had opportunities to walk on to a couple. Wake Forest and North Carolina talked to me about walking on to play football. And of course if I’d walked on to play football, I would’ve tried to walk on to play baseball. N.C. State came and watched me play baseball a little bit. Nothing really panned out, and that’s why I ended going to a D-II school where I could go ahead and start playing.”
You touched on this already about getting more playing time, but what were the advantages of playing at Catawba that you might not have had elsewhere?
“I just felt like if I went somewhere else, I was going to be a number. I had a walk-on opportunity to go to Carolina, but I mean they already get 20 recruits a year and I would’ve been number I-don’t-know-what on the depth chart. I just really felt like, for me, coming in and going ahead and getting some opportunities and getting some playing time right off the bat would’ve been more beneficial for me than me coming in and not playing until my junior year. So I just really wanted the opportunity to play that first year.”
You had a tremendous career at Catawba, but you lasted until the 25th round of the 2008 draft. Did you have a sense that might be the case?
“I’m not sure really what happened. It was a really hectic time, the whole draft process. I really wasn’t sure what was going on, and of course they ask you what kind of numbers you’re looking for money-wise. And people told me because I played D-II and the competition wasn’t there that I wasn’t going to get that kind of money. So, I really just tried to stress that I was ready. I don’t think I could’ve accomplished a whole lot more at school. I don’t think I could’ve had a much better year to show my abilities. I tried to express that I was ready to roll, ready to play some pro ball. I lasted until the 25th round, but luckily I’m with a great organization with the Dodgers. Just trying to show what I got now.”
What did you learn from your experience in the Midwest League last year?
“I went up early and then I got moved down. I learned a little bit of failure and how to work with that, being successful a lot of my life. In the GCL my first year, I struggled a little bit. But last year, getting sent back down, I realized it’s not going to last forever, and I’ve gotta go ahead and give it all I’ve got. I came back up and I really was a little more confident in what I could do and what I needed to do. And just the opportunity to come up and see a little bit better arms, seeing what guys try to do from the pitching standpoint, and realizing that I was going to have to come out every day because pitchers are getting better and better every day. It was real beneficial for me, moving on, knowing that everybody’s getting better, so I’ve got to.”
Did you feel like it took you any time to adjust from metal bats to wood?
“I got the opportunity to play summer ball (in college). I played in the Coastal Plain League. So that was pretty beneficial for me, knowing that I knew a little bit of what I was going to have to get used to. It definitely takes a little while, just because you know you’re not going to square everything up like you might with a metal bat. So it was definitely a little bit of time, but I got the opportunity to swing wood for a couple summers, so that was real beneficial for me.”
Were there any adjustments that you made, mechanical or otherwise, coming into this year?
“Yeah, I definitely tried to shorten up my swing a lot. I seemed to get long last year and strike out. So I’ve tried to stay short and just stay consistent every day, have the same kind of approach, stay hitting line drives. You can still be a power hitter but be a line drive hitter. That’s one thing that I’d get kinda ‘Oh, I gotta be a power hitter,’ and I’d get under a lot of balls. But if I stay consistent and just hit line drives, those line drives turn into home runs.”
Have you been getting any kind of feedback from the Dodgers about what you’ve been doing so far?
“Not a whole lot. I mean, they’re telling me to keep going. Other than that, I haven’t heard a whole lot of talk about moving up or anything. For now, I’ll let them work with that and all I can do is stay here and work hard and keep hitting it. If I get the opportunity to move up, I’ll be really excited, but if I stay here all year, all I can do is just keep hitting it.”
You’ve seen time both in the outfield and at first base. Is that versatility something you’ve really tried to work on? Do you have a preference?
“It never hurts to be versatile. Last year when I came up, I played a little bit of outfield. They had a couple of first basemen get injured and they really didn’t have a first baseman, so they converted me last year. I worked real hard last year in doing it, then in instructs in the offseason. This year, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable. I’ve played the outfield most of my life, so I’m pretty comfortable there. I’ve gotten comfortable at first base now. So as many positions as I can play, it only helps me.”