Top 20 Volcanoes players of all time: #4 Pablo Sandoval

Sandoval celebrates after winning his third World Series title with the San Francisco Giants in 2014 (Matt Slocum/AP Photo).

Pablo Sandoval, AKA the Kung Fu Panda, comes in at #4 on the Keizertimes list of the 20 greatest Volcanoes players of all time. The switch-hitting third baseman has won three World Series rings over his 13-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career and has been selected to a pair of All-Star Games. He also was the MVP of the 2012 World Series.

Sandoval grew up in Venezuela and was first noticed by scouts as a 16-year old in 2002. As a youngster, Sandoval was a left-handed outfielder, but eventually learned to throw right handed in order to be an infielder like his idol, Omar Vizquel.

Sandoval was signed by the San Francisco Giants in 2004 and began his career in the Arizona Rookie League as a catcher, batting .266 in 47 games.

The following season, Sandoval came to Salem-Keizer and proved to be one of the top players in the Northwest League. He was second in the league in batting average (.330) and RBIs (50) and had an on-base percentage (OBP) of .383.

Sandoval played full-season A-ball with the Augusta GreenJackets in 2006, batting .265 with 49 RBIs as he split time at first and third base. In 2007, Sandoval played advanced Single-A and helped San Jose win the California League title after hitting .287 with 11 homers and 52 RBIs.

Sandoval split time between Single-A and Double-A in 2008 before he got called up by the Giants on Aug 13, 2008. In his first MLB at-bat, Sandoval hit a sacrifice fly. He wound up getting his first hit the following day against Mike Hampton of the Atlanta Braves.

On Aug. 27, 2008, Sandoval hit his first homer off of Liván Hernández in the Giants 4-1 victory over the Colorado Rockies. In 45 games, Sandoval hit an impressive .345 with three homers and 24 RBIs.

Sandoval was also given the infamous nickname “Kung Fu Panda” by teammate Barry Zito after Sandoval scored a run against the Los Angeles Dodgers by jumping acrobatically over the catcher — Sandoval has been a heavy-set player for his entire career. 

Even though it was just his first full year in MLB, Sandoval’s best season came in 2009. Sandoval led the Giants in every major batting category, hitting .330 with 25 homers, 90 RBIs and 189 hits, which were all career-highs. Sandoval also had career-highs in slugging percentage (.556) and OBP (.387).

Defensively, Sandoval was the Giants starting third baseman and backup catcher. However, after an elbow injury, the Giants relieved Sandoval of his catching duties.

Sandoval hit his first grand slam on July 6, 2009 off of Sean West in a 5-4 win for San Francisco. His 189 hits on the season were the most ever by a Giants switch-hitter. He had the second highest batting average among National League (NL) hitters and finished seventh in NL MVP voting.

However, Sandoval endured a bit of a sophomore slump, batting .268 with 13 homers and 63 RBIs. He fell to eighth in the batting order and was even benched in the 2010 NL Championship Series (NLCS). He made just three plate appearances in the 2010 World Series, but the Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games and Sandoval got his first championship ring.

Despite spending 41 games on the disabled list, Sandoval had a bounce-back season in 2011. He had a 22-game hit streak that lasted from June 19 to July 14. On July 10, 2011, Sandoval was selected to his first All-Star Game — he hit a ground-rule double in his first all-star at-bat off of Brandon League.

On Sept. 15, 2011, Sandoval hit for the cycle, with all four hits coming off Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacín, and earned his first NL Player of the Week Award.

In just 426 at-bats, Sandoval hit .313 with 23 homers and 70 RBIs.

Sandoval began the 2012 season with a 20-game hit streak, which set the Giants record for longest hit streak to begin a season. Despite an injury in May that caused him to miss a month of the season, Sandoval was selected to his second straight All-Star Game.

In the 2012 All-Star Game, Sandoval hit a bases-clearing triple off of reigning American League (AL) Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander in the first inning.

However, Sandoval headed back to the disabled list from July 28 to Aug. 13 with a left hamstring injury.

On Sept. 20, 2012, Sandoval became the sixth Giants player to ever homer from both sides of the plate in a game. He finished the season batting .283 with 12 homers and 64 RBIs.

Sandoval batted over .300 in the NL Division series (NLDS) and NLCS, helping the Giants get to their second World Series in three years.

In game one of the 2012 World Series against the Detroit Tigers, Sandoval cemented himself into World Series lore by hitting three home runs and leading the Giants to the 8-3 win. Sandoval joined Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson and Albert Pujols as the only players to ever hit three homers in a World Series game. Sandoval went 8-for-16 at the plate in the series and was named World Series MVP as the Giants swept the Tigers in four games.

Sandoval’s 24 playoff hits, including six home runs, were a new Giants record for a single postseason. Sandoval also won the Babe Ruth Award in 2012, which is annually given to the player with the best performance during the postseason.

Sandoval got off to a hot start to begin the 2013 campaign with 35 hits in the month of April, the most by a Giant since 1900. On May 21, 2013, Sandoval hit a walk-off two-run homer to help the Giants defeat the Washington Nationals 4-2. However, he was slowed by a left foot injury, which put him on the disabled list for two weeks from June 9 through June 23. But that didn’t stop Sandoval from making more history later in the season.

On Sept. 4, 2013, Sandoval homered three times against the San Diego Padres in a 13-5 Giants victory, which joined him with Ruth, Jackson, Pujols, George Brett, and Adrián Beltré as the only players to have three-homer games in the regular season and playoffs. Sandoval finished the year batting .278 with 146 hits, 14 homers and 79 RBIs.

Even though he got off to a slow start in 2014, Sandoval hit .351 with seven homers and 27 RBIs over a stretch from May 6 to June 21. He finished the year with 16 homers and 73 RBIs while batting .279.

During the 2014 postseason, Sandoval proved himself to be a hero for the Giants once again. In game two of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals, Sandoval hit a game-tying RBI-double in the top of the ninth to send the game into extra innings — the Giants eventually won the game 2-1 and took the series in four games. With the hit, Sandoval extended his NL playoff hitting streak to 13 games.

Sandoval also had a postseason on-base streak that lasted 25 games — it came to an end in game three of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals. In game four of the series, Sandoval went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs. It was his 13th multi-hit playoff game, which was the second most in franchise history.

Sandoval recorded his 26th hit of the 2014 postseason in game seven of the World Series, which set a new MLB record for most hits in a single postseason — the record was broken by Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020. Sandoval also recorded the series-clinching put-out at third base, giving the Giants their third World Series ring in five years.

Before the 2015 season, Sandoval signed as a free agent with the Boston Red Sox. The deal was for $90 million over five years.

However, Sandoval’s time in Boston did not go as planned. He only batted .245 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 2015, then he missed nearly the entire 2016 season with a shoulder injury.

Sandoval struggled in 2017 as well, batting just .225 in 45 games for the Red Sox before being released. He was picked up by the Giants and began his second-stint with the team on Aug. 5, 2017 and had five homers and 20 RBIs in 47 games.

Sandoval had nine homers and 40 RBIs in 2018. He also led the MLB with 18 pinch-hits, but his most notable single performance on the season came from the mound. On April 28, Sandoval made his pitching debut against the Dodgers and threw a perfect inning by throwing mostly 70 mile-per-hour curveballs.

Sandoval had a bit of a bounce-back season in 2019, batting .268 with 14 homers and 41 RBIs. He also played in 108 games despite being hampered by elbow problems for the majority of the year.

In the shortened 2020 season, Sandoval played in 34 games for the Giants, but was released after batting just .214. He was signed by the Atlanta Braves, but played in just one game.