Jerry Sands joins his sixth MLB organization
By Mike London
Jerry Sands plans to head to Glendale, Ariz., on Feb. 10. That’s 13 days before the standard reporting day for the Chicago White Sox.
“I’m with another new organization,” Sands said in a phone interview. “I’ll go early. That will give me a chance to try to learn all the names.”
Sands was designated for assignment by the Cleveland Indians on Dec. 18.
His Christmas present was another new team — the White Sox. They claimed him off waivers on Dec. 23.
Sands has played against most of the White Sox, but he doesn’t know many of them.
Time in baseball ticks quickly. The clock is always on fast forward. Prospects become journeyman seemingly overnight.
In 2008, Sands was a Catawba College junior, a 20-year-old All-American who was making Newman Park look way too small. He accumulated almost as many homers (24) as strikeouts (27) in an incredible season, batting .390 and driving in 85 runs in 61 games.
His senior year at Catawba never arrived. The Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him in June of 2008 — the 25th round, the 757th overall pick. Sands remembers those numbers vividly because he was torn between the excitement of being chosen and the disappointment of having his name called later than anyone had anticipated.
He settled for a modest signing bonus of $5,000 because the Dodgers were willing to agree to pay for his final year of college.
Twenty-fifth round picks aren’t supposed to reach the majors, but Sands climbed the ladder steadily with a barrage of homers.
In 2010, Sands was considered one of baseball’s top long ball prospects after belting 35 homers at the two highest levels of the Dodgers’ farm system.
But now it’s 2016, and Sands has evolved from wide-eyed prospect to wily veteran/platoon player in the blink of an eye.
The journeyman label isn’t relished by any major leaguer, but the tag fits the 28-year-old Sands. He has played in big league games wearing the uniforms of the Dodgers, Tampa Bay Rays and Cleveland Indians. He’s also been a member of the Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates organizations, although he never suited up for the Red Sox and his only games as a Pirate were in spring training.
“My wife (Morgan) and I were just talking about that, how quickly time passes and how quickly things change,” Sands said. “It’s funny, but my manager in Triple A last year was asking me if I needed to take some days off. Triple A managers have started asking me my opinion about things. I’ve been in Triple A ball four or five years now, so I guess I have been around for a while.”
Sands lives in Wendell, a small suburb of Raleigh. He’s still close to his roots, where he grew up near Smithfield. His parents are 20 minutes away and his wife’s parents are 10 minutes away. That’s been a wonderful situation now that Sands has a son. Eli is 17 months old.
“He’s wide open,” Sands said. “He keeps me in shape chasing him around.”
Sands has experienced good moments in major league baseball. There was the double off Tim Hudson in his first at-bat after the Dodgers called him up. There was his first big-league homer off veteran Mark Buehrle. The mammoth grand slam in Houston.
He had a great week with Tampa Bay in 2014, delivering game-winning hits on back-to-back days, but then a wrist injury abruptly ended his season.
He got a chance to play in 50 games for Cleveland in 2015, riding a wild roller-coaster that included mashing in Triple A to earn call-ups to the Indians, clutch hits for Cleveland, and being designated for assignment on three different occasions.
His four-RBI day in a battle with Detroit was his season highlight.
“I’d just been called up to the majors and suddenly, and I’m facing David Price, one of the best in the game,” Sands said. “I was fortunate to get a big hit against him and drove in some runs. Then I drove in two more runs later in the game. The crowd was really into it, and they were chanting my name. That was one of those cool moments.”
Speaking of cool moments, there also was a pinch-hit grand slam against Minnesota in 2015, but the bottom line for Sands’ big-league season was ordinary — four homers, 19 RBIs and a .236 batting average.
So his stay in Cleveland was brief.
“Cleveland treated me well and the fans were great,” Sands said. “But they’ve got a lot of studs and they’re looking to win right now. They kept adding veteran guys to the roster, and I could see myself moving further and further down the depth chart. But Chicago looks like a great fit. They need a right-handed bat off the bench. Not that I’m settling for a bench role, but being that guy off the bench could get my foot in the door to play more.”
Sands’ minor league accomplishments in 699 games — 151 homers, 498 RBIs and a .276 batting average — have overwhelmed his major league numbers to this point.
In his 132 big league games, he’s managed nine homers, 50 RBIs and a .238 batting average.
Sands won’t be a star, and with each year that zooms by, it’s looking less likely that he’ll ever get a serious chance to an everyday player.
But what the 6-foot-4, right-handed hitter has proven in the majors is that he can be a force against lefties, even the elite lefties such as David Price. He’s batting .199 against big-league right-handers, but he hits .292 against southpaws. That ability to batter lefties and to hit them with power could keep him in the major leagues for years to come.
“The White Sox are a fresh organization and a fresh opportunity,” Sands said. “I’ll go down to spring training with the goal of breaking camp with the team. I’ll work as hard as I can, and we’ll see what happens.”
While Sands isn’t likely to ever get one of those crazy contracts, the major league minimum salary is $507,500.
If Sands doesn’t make Chicago’s opening-day roster, it would mean he’ll be hitting homers for the Triple A Charlotte Knights while he waits to be called up. He’s an expert at both those things — belting minor-league homers and waiting for his phone to ring — so that won’t be the worst thing in the world.
Sands hasn’t visited Salisbury in a long time, but he’s looking forward to making an appearance at the First Pitch Dinner, a fund-raiser for the Catawba baseball program, on Jan. 22.
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