Sandy Leon Capitalizing on Unexpected Opportunity

Coming in to the 2016 season, Sandy Leon‘s role in the Boston Red Sox organization seemed to be a most unfavorable one: he’d be stuck in the minor leagues all year, with three talented major-league backstops ahead of him on the organizational depth chart. Ten-year MLB veteran Ryan Hanigan was heading into the last year of his contract with the team, youngster Blake Swihart looked impressive at the plate in the second half of last year, and defensive guru Christian Vazquez was set to return from Tommy John surgery in early May. Surely, there was no place in Boston for the man with a career batting average below the Mendoza line.

Nevertheless, a series of injuries to Swihart (ankle) and Hanigan (neck) in early June led to Leon getting called up from Triple-A Pawtucket to serve as the backup to Vazquez. In his first game back with the Red Sox in 2016, Leon doubled in his first at-bat of the year, which came after being inserted behind the plate during the seventh inning of an interleague contest in San Francisco. Four days later, Leon earned his first start of the season against the Minnesota Twins and proceeded to go four-for-four with another double, a walk, and two RBIs. It was just his ninth career multi-hit game, and his first with more than three hits.

Since his breakout contest at Target Field, Leon has continued his hot streak, going seven-for-19 in eight games played, clubbing two more doubles, two more RBIs, and matching his four strikeouts with four walks. Leon has gone hitless in just two of his ten games this season; one of those was an 0-for-1 after a late-inning insertion into the game, and the other was a start where he went 0-for-2 with three walks and two runs scored. As of June 25, Leon sports a ridiculous .545/.615/.727 triple-slash line as well as a 255 OPS+ and 253 wRC+.

Of course, any statistics taken from a sample of 26 plate appearances need to be taken with a grain of salt, as they really don’t mean much in terms of projecting future performance. Leon still owns a meager .221/.294/.273 career line in the majors, and his .238/.325/.330 career line in the minors doesn’t suggest a long-term breakout is in the works. Additionally, Leon’s absurd .667 BABIP is all but impossible to maintain over an extended stretch of time.

However, the one thing Leon’s crazy numbers do mean is that he’s been super productive for the Red Sox offense over the last few weeks. In fact, he’s already amassed 0.7 fWAR in his ten games, tying him for seventh on the team with outfielder Chris Young, who’s played 48 games. With Christian Vazquez continuing to struggle at the plate, it should not be a surprise to see Leon continuing to get regular playing time in the absence of Hanigan and Swihart. As long as he stays hot and keeps recording hits, his presence in the struggling Boston lineup will be much appreciated by the Boston fans as well as his teammates and coaches alike.

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