Halo's prospect and organizational player of the year Freddy Sandoval takes a break from spring training activities to chat with Halos Heaven about his torrid 2008 season - and his hopes entering 2009.
HH: Just to get this going, how have the first few days of spring training gone for you?
FS: It's been great! It's been fun getting back to work, getting ready for a new season, just working on the things we need to work on. I love it.
HH: I'm looking forward to watching you get your at-bats in spring training this year - last year you were unbelievable in camp. I think you hit .500, with something like 5 or 6 walks?
FS: It's just one of those things. I always like getting up there. I consider myself a patient hitter - I usually take a pitch from pitchers I've never seen before or never faced before, so they'll fall behind sometimes. If you concentrate on having a good at bat, and having a good approach, then more often then not you're going to have positive things happen. I was lucky, thank God, I was lucky to start off that way, and maybe I opened some eyes.
[For the record, Freddy's off to another torrid start this spring, hitting .333/.357/.500 with 5 rbi's in only 5 games]
HH: You're coming off of two really tremendous seasons at the plate. They moved you into the three hole early on last year in a very talented Bees lineup. What was that like hitting in the middle of the order?
FS: Things were going well for me, and they put me in the three-hole. That's where I've hit pretty much my whole life, so I feel really comfortable at that spot. Going back to Mexico [winter ball], they put me there the very first day - I hit third for the whole season in Mazatlan until the Caribbean Series when we got Adrian Gonzalez who became our three hitter. I feel really comfortable hitting second and third. It's that position where I get to put the ball in play and drive in runs.
HH: Who first taught you to switch-hit, or suggested that you try switch-hitting?
FS: It all started when I was about 13 years old and I broke my left collarbone playing baseball in Mexico. In little league, the bases aren't really put together in the ground, so I was playing a game and I slipped at first base - the base moved when I was pushing off to head to second base - and I landed on my shoulder and broke my left collarbone. After that I wasn't too comfortable hitting from the right side. I wanted to play, so my Dad said, "well, just hit from the left side." So I said, "well alright, I'll do it." That's how it all started for me.
HH: In AA you hit in an Arkansas park that's death to hitters, and then last year you got to hit in Utah, which is generally a good place for a hitter. Did you change your approach at all in the different parks?
FS: Not at all. We all have our own approach. I'm not a power guy, not a power hitter, so my swing is to hit the ball where it's pitched - to drive the ball the other way. I'm a doubles hitter, I've always been a doubles hitter, so I've never tried to do too much at the plate. I just try to go with the same approach and put together a good at bat: see the ball, and hit it where it's pitched and drive in some runs.
HH: After spending most of the last few years at third base, you played some second base last year with the Bees, and then in Mexico. Had you done that much before?
FS: Yes, I grew up playing just about everywhere in the infield. I started off as a shortstop in high school and then moved to third base - but growing up I played everywhere in the infield so it wasn't too hard. The position that I feel very comfortable at is still third base. I'm also playing some first base nowadays, which makes it more fun for me - working at all of those positions, I just show up at the stadium and not know where I'm going to be at. It makes me work harder, and it gives me the possibility of being in the game more often.
HH: You've been in the thick of playoff runs all last year, first with the Salt Lake Bees, then with the Angels, and then with Mexico's Venados de Mazatlan. Pretty much everywhere you've gone this year, you've won. Are there any high points that stick out for you?
FS: Well it's a blessing. The whole year was awesome. Just one of those years that you're never going to forget about. I had a lot of support from my family, my wife - It's all about having fun, and when you have fun, things just go your way. It was great being on winning teams, first at Salt Lake and then with the Angels. And then going back to Mexico and winning the championship there.
HH: When you were winning in the minor leagues and Mexico, did that have the same feeling as winning in the Majors?
FS: Definitely. Baseball is played the same way anywhere you go; it doesn't matter where you're playing - when you win, you win. We had a lot of fun in AAA, and when I got called up to the big leagues the team clinched and it was another big party. In Mexico it was about the same thing. We all enjoyed it together as a family, and we all remain friends.
HH: Going back to your time with the Salt Lake Bees - that run of victories in the beginning of the season, those nineteen straight wins. That was incredible. Were there individual performances from the guys around you that really helped the team, that really stand out for you?
FS: When you're winning everything is fun. I think the whole team did a phenomenal job, starting with our pitching. Obviously our hitting was where it should be. To start off 19 and 1 and to be considered one of the best [minor league] teams in history was an achievement that none of us expected - we just went out there playing our best, playing with our hearts every time, and things happened for us. From the bottom of the order to the top everyone was coming through at the right time. That's what winning teams do.
HH: You got your first major league hit this season - congratulations! - against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners. What was that like? To get your first hit off of someone of that caliber?
FS: It was awesome! First, I was just in shock, just knowing I was going to start that game. I wasn't nervous; just in shock. The team was in a playoff run, so it was really surprising. I felt really comfortable at the plate. I had my wife and my family there, so it made things a lot more comfortable, and to face a pitcher like Felix - we knew it was going to be a battle, and luckily I was able to get my first hit off him. It was one of those things I'll never forget, especially off of a pitcher like him.
HH: And I think you worked a walk off him the next at bat too, didn't you?
FS: Yes. I got ahead in the count, 3 and 1, and I was looking for something to hit, and he threw me a sinker away. I still remember it - I thought it was going be another strike probably. But I just took the walk and was happy with it. Any way I could help the team.
HH: That was an exciting game too, wasn't it? That game ended in a walk-off, right?
FS: Figgins came through and finished the game for us with a walk-off hit. Another celebration! It was great. Teixeira hit a two run homerun that game also. Those were the highlights of that game.
HH: What was it like to represent Mexico in the Caribbean Series? What were the fans like, being the home crowd in that VERY competitive series?
FS: Well, I don't think there's a better feeling than representing your country at home. The fans were phenomenal. They were there for us through the good and bad. Even when we lost that third game to Venezuela the fans were still there for us. That's the good thing about playing at home, playing in front of 15,000, 16,000 people every night - it was a great feeling. Some good memories.
HH: What was the competition like in that series? Was it similar to AA or AAA?
FS: It's pretty comparable to AAA I would say - there was a lot of pitching in the league. You're facing teams and pitchers and hitters that you've never faced before, so it makes the game a little more fun. There's no such thing as a scouting report. It's just show and go: there's no batting practice, you just get there and hope the team comes up with a victory. There were some great teams and Venezuela just had a great series. They probably averaged 10 or 12 hits a game, so it's pretty tough to beat a team that's putting together so many great at bats.
HH: Who were some guys that you played against last year who struck you as being really talented - were there pitchers who just had your number, or were there other guys who just always seemed to battle?
FS: We played teams like Sacramento with the A's who were unbelievable. They had a great pitching staff, great hitters, and they worked at it as hard as we did. They would battle everyday. Fortunately we were pretty consistent against them.
HH: What's the deal with World Baseball Classic? When are they going to announce the final rosters?
FS: You know, it's one of those things that I have no idea about, no idea what the situation is. As far as I know I'm on the 40 man roster, and hoping to make that 26, 27 man or 28 man team roster they're going to keep. I'm hoping it works out- it would be another great time, and another great opportunity to represent my country again.
[The World Baseball Classic released its final rosters the next day - Freddy will play for Mexico in the upcoming tournament]
HH: You've been with the Angels organization for four years now, and have played with a lot of guys. Do any of your teammates stick out as being great clubhouse guys - you know, the big personalities?
FS: I always like being the guy who keeps things loose. Over the years I've played with Sean Rodriguez - he's one of my best friends. We try to keep things together in the clubhouse. We just try to go about it the right way, which is having fun, and playing the game how it's supposed to be played. We've been doing a pretty good job at that.
HH: The two of you guys, you and Sean, really terrorized AAA pitching last year - you were hitting back to back a lot of time, right?
FS: Yeah, most of the time I was hitting second or third, and he was hitting second, third or fourth. It's been a privilege for me to play with a guy like Sean, for the last four years, and now people are getting a chance to see what he can do at the big league level. I'm rooting for him - hopefully he'll make the big league team this year.
HH: Did you have a chance to do something special over the offseason?
FS: This year was all about baseball. I usually try to spend time with my wife and my family, but this year after coming off of a good season at Salt Lake and making my debut in the big leagues, I think it was all about baseball. We had some time off in the winter, but then I joined my team in Mexico to play baseball. I had the honor of playing with a lot of people who taught me a lot - that's what it's all about, you got to keep learning new things everyday. I was able to mature a lot over the year, and now, being here in spring training, I just feel more comfortable.
Thank you Freddy - we here at Halos Heaven will be looking forward to watching more of you in the year to come! Also, many thanks to the Angels' communications office, and especially Nancy Mazmanian, for taking the time to set up the interview.