The Rays have a reliever in camp who is blind in one eye

20 Comments

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times wrote a really interesting profile yesterday on Juan Sandoval, a 32-year-old reliever who has been invited to Rays’ camp. He’s trying to keep his baseball career alive despite the fact that he’s completely blind in his right eye.

Sandoval once had some promise as a pitching prospect with the Mariners, but his life changed in February of 2006. While he was out to dinner one night in his hometown in the Dominican Republic, a restaurant security guard and a drunken old man got into a scuffle which resulted in gunfire. Sandoval turned his head to look and was hit with shotgun pellets, including three in his right eye. Doctors were able to save his eye following a seven-hour surgery, but not his vision.

Sandoval actually made it back to baseball less than a year later, but he has understandably had some trouble adjusting. He has bounced around quite bit since then, spending the past two seasons in the Mexican League, but he made it on the Rays’ radar after Joel Peralta placed a call to executive vice president Andrew Friedman over the winter.

Sandoval isn’t going to make the Rays out of spring training, but he has received some rave reviews from manager Joe Maddon and could begin the season with Triple-A Durham. While you wouldn’t blame Sandoval if he had some bitterness about his hard luck, he certainly isn’t showing it.

“Being honest with you, if I could change something that happened in my life, I would not change anything,” Sandoval said. “Everything that has happened has made me the person that I am right now. And I’m a really happy person. …

“This opportunity is something I was dreaming of. And I’m here.”

Not sure how you can’t root for this guy.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
5 Comments

A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.