The Dodgers’ decision to call up Jerry Sands to play left field might seem like too much, too soon for the prospect. But it reflects the virtue of not making a commitment to any particular left-fielder in the offseason. Consider who the Dodgers walked into camp with as their "established" choices: Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, and useful fifth-outfielder type Tony Gwynn Jr. That was a possible platoon of two former DHs and their defensive replacement, and while that’s not an awful fill to a bopper’s slot in the lineup, you'd move them of the way as soon as you’ve got a better option.
Enter Sands (as Dodger Thoughts wrote, maybe a memorable moment in Dodger history), who can be that better option. He was rated as one of the Dodgers’ best hitting prospects coming into the season because of his outstanding power potential after hitting 35 homeruns between the Low-A Great Lakes Loons and the Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts last year. That was an aggressive promotion schedule, but he didn’t falter, and now he’s up after already sending five pitches over the fence in Triple-A, four of them at home for the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Now, generally speaking, you may not want to get too excited about that last fact -- Isotopes Park retained the dimensions of Albuquerque’s old stadium, the one that helped generate inflated expectations of Mike Marshall (the PCL triple-crown winner, not the pitcher) and Franklin Stubbs in the ‘80s. There are also the ongoing questions from some scouts over whether or not Sands can handle advanced breaking stuff.
The other element to keep in mind is that while Sands might be the left fielder of the present, his limited range might also make him the team’s first baseman of the near future. That reflects the Dodgers’ variety of fall-back options. Sands’ teammate in the Isotopes’ outfield, center-field prospect Trayvon Robinson, should also have a 2011 ETA. Whether the Dodgers’ brass decides to stick with Matt Kemp in center or not, they have a quality alternative, but Robinson’s bat is good enough for left if Kemp sticks in center. They may also decide to notice that James Loney’s RBI tallies aren’t anything more than a reflection of his batting fourth or fifth over the majority of his career, and that first basemen who slug .431 aren’t very hard to find -- or replace.
As a result, whether he struggles initially or not, Sands’ time won’t run out quickly. The organization is high on him for all the right reasons, so even if he falters, competing with players like Loney, Thames, Gwynn or Gibbons will definitely favor the kid with the loud bat.
Christina Kahrl helped found Baseball Prospectus in 1996, is a member of the BBWAA, and covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter here.