Sands fighting for spot on Pirates' bench


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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Two years ago, the Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers held discussions about a trade. One of the players involved in the talks, manager Clint Hurdle said, was Jerry Sands, then a 23-year-old corner outfielder and first baseman on his way to hitting 29 home runs in 94 games at Class AAA Albuquerque.

Two years and two teams later, Sands joined the Pirates, and in doing so joined the fight for a spot on the bench.

"They said there's going to be some competition and some opportunity out there," Sands said. "They just pretty much told me to come out, play hard and let itself work out."

Spring Training Report: Jerry Sands

The Pirates' Jerry Sands talks to the media from spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. (Video by Peter Diana; 2/19/2013)

While playing in the Pacific Coast League with the Dodgers organization, Sands did just about everything he could to earn a chance in the majors, which was impressive considering where he was drafted. The Dodgers selected Sands in the 25th round of the 2008 draft out of Division II Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C., where Sands had set school records in home runs, walks and slugging percentage. Sands signed for $5,000.

He spent a season and a half in rookie ball before breaking out in 2010, when he hit .301 with 35 home runs between Class A and Class AA. Baseball America ranked him the sixth-best prospect in the Dodgers system after the season. He reached the majors not long after the start of the 2011 season and had a .727 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 61 games but went back to the minor leagues in early June.

He had another great year in Albuquerque in 2012 but appeared in only nine major league games.

"I know one of the coaches that's worked out with him the last couple winters raves about the kid," Hurdle said. "We're happy to have him."

Sands, a 25-year-old right-handed batter, went to the Boston Red Sox to complete the trade that sent Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to Los Angeles but would never put on a Red Sox uniform. The Pirates acquired him, along with Ivan DeJesus, Stolmy Pimentel and Mark Melancon, when they sent Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt to Boston.

"These guys, they welcomed me in," Sands said of the Pirates. "Great group of guys, really friendly. It's been a great transition over here. It's been fun starting to get to work with them."

Sands said he has also enjoyed working with hitting coach Jay Bell, who provides a fresh set of eyes on his swing after five years in the Dodgers organization.

"Jay's had a lot of success throughout his playing career and things he did," Sands said. "It's just fun to get maybe a few different things from him that he might have done."

Sands mostly played corner outfield with the Dodgers but played a good deal of first base in the minors as well. The Pirates have indicated that Starling Marte and Travis Snider will get the first chance to start in left and right field, respectively. General manager Neal Huntington said Garrett Jones will play mostly first base this season, alternating with Gaby Sanchez, rather than splitting time between first base and right field.

"Especially with a left-handed Travis Snider or left-handed Alex Presley as an option in right field, assuming that Marte and Snider take care of their responsibilities as options," Huntington said.

That leaves Sands, Presley, Clint Robinson, Jose Tabata, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer and Brandon Inge, among others, to fight for the final three bench spots behind Sanchez and Michael McKenry.

"We like the individuals that we've got involved in those particular spots as far as the competition," Hurdle said. "We've got guys that also have flexibility and versatility if need be. We're protected with depth in case of injury. We like everybody that's in camp for a particular reason."

"There's a lot of guys out there kind of shuffling around," Sands said. "Just go out and do what I can do and let it go from there."

Pirates lose to Twins

Kyle McPherson threw two scoreless innings in a 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Twins Monday at Hammond Stadium.

McPherson hit 95 mph on the stadium radar gun and needed only 15 pitches to get through his two innings. Hurdle said the Pirates exercised caution after biceps tendinitis slowed McPherson during the winter.

"Get him up and down twice, after the setback over the winter, let the first time just be modified and go from there," Hurdle said.

Tabata hit a solo home run. The Pirates will play the Orioles at 1:05 p.m. today in Bradenton.

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Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published February 26, 2013 5:00 AM


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