SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — When Derek Holland was designated for assignment last July, the Giants lost their best celebration. Holland’s water jug became a staple of walk-off wins, so much so that a couple of teammates grabbed jugs to cap the walk-offs that occurred after Holland had been let go.
This year’s team will have a new set of signals and celebrations, and the Giants have a new infielder who seems well-positioned to earn fan-favorite status. Yolmer Sanchez takes walk-off wins to a different level:
Never change, Yolmer. pic.twitter.com/nxgaPWCEaH— Cut4 (@Cut4) September 3, 2018
Sanchez said he started dousing himself because he simply likes to have fun, and he pointed out that you never know how long your big league career will last. You have to make the most of it.
“I try to enjoy my time and enjoy everything that we do as a group,” he said. “I did it and the fans liked it so I continued to do it.”
The Giants are hoping Sanchez is doing more than just celebrating big hits. They are confident in his bat and the adjustments he’s making, and they’re counting on him to add production to the infield.
Sanchez won a Gold Glove at second base last year -- he said his goal is to repeat and also win the Platinum Glove given to the league’s best defender -- and the Giants already have seen his slick feet and quick hands in action this spring. But they were more encouraged by what they saw in an early live BP session, when he pulled a homer comfortably over the wall.
“That was kind of cool to see him square up a fastball and be on time with his swing and drive the ball to the air on the pull side,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “One thing we always know about Yolmer is his defense is always going to be there, so to the degree that some of those swing changes can take effect, we see him as being a really impactful player for us.”
Like most in camp, Sanchez is making subtle changes with a new Giants hitting coach. But his version of the story has a twist. He started working with hitting coach Justin Viele earlier this offseason when Sanchez was still with the White Sox and Viele was a minor league coach for the Dodgers. The two have reunited at Scottsdale Stadium, continuing to work on a new swing path that ideally will have Sanchez hitting more balls up the middle and to the gaps.
“I think that’s one of the things that was exciting about coming here,” Sanchez said of Viele. “He knows what I can do. If I feel good, if I feel comfortable, I believe in my talent and I believe I can do way better than last year, and I’m going to prove it.”
The 2019 numbers were low enough that the White Sox, who spent heavily over the offseason, non-tendered one of the league’s better defenders. Sanchez had a .638 OPS and just two homers, and his OPS+ was below league average for the sixth consecutive season.
But the Giants see some stretches in Sanchez’s past that could make him a good fit for their infield. He had a .738 OPS against lefties last year and was at .724 with eight homers the year before against righties. If the switch-hitter swings that way from either side, he would fit the platoon-heavy roster.
Regardless, the glove work is so elite that Sanchez has been worth 8.2 WAR over the past three seasons. That should put him in the middle infield mix with Brandon Crawford, Mauricio Dubon, Wilmer Flores and Donovan Solano.
Sanchez turned down big league offers to come to San Francisco as a non-roster invitee. He’s hoping to win an everyday job and provide some production for the lineup, but if he’s in the dugout when the winning run is scored, Sanchez will be ready to contribute in a far funnier way. He smiled when asked if the Gatorade dumps will make a comeback.
“We’ll see, that’s something that I don’t practice,” Sanchez said. “But I think at the right moment, I will do it, yeah.”