Sandy David León Balan
- Bats Both, Throws Right
- Height 5' 11", Weight 220 lb.
León signed with the Washington Nationals in January 2007; the scouts were Dana Brown and Mike Rizzo. It was the first Washington tryout in Venezuela since the Montreal Expos had relocated in 2004. He debuted that summer with the GCL Nationals, hitting .202/.324/.202 by going 115 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. He started at catcher ahead of Derek Norris. In 2008, he fell to .189/.294/.230 for the same club. Sandy split 2009 between the Hagerstown Suns (.218/.265/.256 in 23 G) and Vermont Lake Monsters (.247/.345/.355 in 50 G). He was rated as the best defensive catcher in the Washington chain by Baseball America and threw out 41% of attempted base-stealers.
In 2010, León produced at a .249/.345/.335 clip for the Suns, with 6 triples and 50 walks. He gunned down an amazing 51% of attempted base thieves, but made 19 errors as well. He led South Atlantic League backstops in assists (115), errors and twin killings (17). In winter ball, he debuted in the Venezuelan League by going 3 for 5 with a triple and 3 RBI for the Águilas del Zulia but was 0 for 9 in the postseason. Moving up to the Potomac Nationals the next summer, he hit .251/.312/.362 and continued to show off a cannon arm (opponents stole 53 times in 113 times, as Sandy caught 53% of them). He went 7 for 28 with four walks for Zulia in 2011-2012.
The Maracaibo native began 2012 with the AA Harrisburg Senators and was putting on a strong show at .319/.356/.457 with 10 doubles in 27 games. Despite only 27 games above A ball, he was called up when Wilson Ramos was injured. On May 14th, his major league debut, he started and hit 8th. He struck out against Tim Stauffer in his first at-bat then sustained a right ankle injury in a collision at the plate with Chase Headley. Jesus Flores replaced him and León went on the DL. He played only 12 games in the majors that season, hitting .267 in 30 at-bats. In 64 minor league games between Harrisburg, the Auburn Doubledays and the AAA Syracuse Chiefs, he hit .322/.396/.460. However, his 2013 season was disrupted by more injuries, as he again spent time at Auburn (1 for 13) and Harrisburg (.177/.291/.252 in 95 G), but hit only .173 in 98 games, with 3 homers and 26 RBI. He played 2 games in the majors with Washington, getting only 1 at-bat.
Sandy was slated to start 2014 in the minor leagues, but plans changed when Wilson Ramos suffered a broken bone on opening day. He was called up to back-up Jose Lobaton. He went only 1 for 15 in his first 4 games, but on April 14th, he hit his first big league homer off Kevin Slowey of the Miami Marlins in a 9-2 win. He played 20 games for the Nats but hit only .156. In 2015, his contract was purchased by the Boston Red Sox, but he had another disappointing season, hitting .184 in 41 games. Thus, in 2016, his career seemed headed nowhere when he was called up by Boston in June after a rash of injuries to their catching corps. He started off red hot, with a 4-for-4 game in his first start on June 11th and was still hitting .467 at the end of June. The Red Sox had no choice but to give him playing time, as his bat would not cool down: he was still at .391 at the end of July and ended the year hitting .310 in 78 games with 7 homers and 35 RBIs, having taken over as the regular catcher. He started all three games for the Red Sox in their ALDS loss to the Cleveland Indians, going 1 for 10 with his lone hit a solo homer off Trevor Bauer in Game 1 on October 6th.
He started 2017 where he had left off the year before. In starting the first two games of the year behind the plate, he went 5 for 8 with a double and a homer, the latter of the walk-off variety off Antonio Bastardo of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 12th inning on April 5th which gave Boston a 3-0 win. Behind the dish, his work was outstanding as well, as both games had been shutouts. His bat eventually cooled down, but he still hit .225 with 7 homers and 39 RBIs in 85 games while splitting time with Christian Vazquez, whose offensive contribution was also mediocre. The Red Sox repeated as division champions, and while sandy went 4 for 8 with a pair of RBIs in the Division Series against the Houston Astros, Boston made another quick exit from the postseason. In 2018, the bottom fell out of his offensive contribution, as he hit just .177 with 5 homers and 22 RBIs in 89 games, but the Red Sox still had one of their best seasons ever, and his defensive play and pitch calling were both outstanding, which explains why new manager Alex Cora kept inserting him into the starting line-up even though he was pretty much an automatic out. While Vazquez handled the bulk of the work in the postseason, he still was used in 10 games, and went 3 for 6 with a double in the World Series, in which Boston defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.
In spring training in 2019, he was in a battle with Blake Swihart to be Vazquez's back-up, the latter having spent the previous season as a utility player and having a much more potent bat than his. Swihart won the battle, and the Red Sox weer forced to place León on waivers before the start the season. However, no team claimed him, so he was able to start the year in AAA with the Pawtucket Red Sox, staying in the organization. Meanwhile, Boston got off to a terrible start, with the pitching being in particular disarray, and on April 16th, the team decided to make a change, calling Sandy back to Boston while designating Swihart for assignment. He was immediately inserted in the starting line-up that day, trying to help Chris Sale shake off his early-season troubles in the first meeting of the year with their arch-rivals, the also struggling New York Yankees.