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San Francisco third baseman Pablo Sandoval(notes), aka "Kung-Fu Panda," is a big dude. He's listed at 5-foot-11 and 246 pounds (which is, for the record, the approximate maximum size of an actual male panda). He's also a ridiculously skilled hitter coming off a .330 season.

There's a lot to like here: Exceptional nickname, exceptional bat, plays a talent-scarce position. He has both tangibles and intangibles. In fact, his intangibles have intangibles.

During the offseason, reports surfaced of Sandoval's involvement in an intense weight-loss and conditioning program, code-named "Operation Panda."  He was shedding pounds. It was a life-style change. An awakening. An unprecedented re-making of a big, big man. This from MLB.com:

It is Day 11 of Sandoval's personal conditioning camp – a three-week project Potenziano and head trainer Dave Groeschner have dubbed "Operation Panda." They even had T-shirts printed up with the words "Operation Panda: Discipline–Hard Work–Perseverance."

"We've never had a player do anything like this – ever," Groeschner says of the one-man camp.

[…]

For the first time in his life, Sandoval is lifting weights. He's eating vegetables. He is meeting every Wednesday while he's in Scottsdale with a nutrition professor from Arizona State University, who is teaching him about healthy food choices and portion control.

After months of healthy choices and strict portion control, we're happy to unveil the new Sandoval, pictured above. (OK, technically 'Duk unveiled him on Wednesday). Yes, he's still large – probably still at the high end of the dimensional range for a real panda. And he's partially camouflaged, too, which may have a slimming effect. But c'mon, the man wasn't going to become a sun bear in just three weeks. It appears that he's at least made some progress…um…maybe.

Behold the "before," from August '09…

…and then re-examine the "after" photo above, taken on February 17. At the very least, he's arrested the inflation.

Here's a shot of the vegetable salt-intake portion of Operation Panda…

(Honestly, I'd salt the [expletive] outta that meal, too. That looks awful).

In the Yahoo! 2010 Baseball Draft Guide, we projected another quality stat line for Sandoval: 84 runs, 23 homers, 95 RBIs, 4 steals(!), .313 AVG. Despite persistent conditioning concerns, he never hit less than .298 in any calendar month last season, and he was basically just as effective after the All Star break (.327/.389/.530) as he was before (.333/.385/.578). Sandoval swings at almost everything – his outside-the-zone swing percentage was 41.5 last year, second-highest in baseball – but he also seems to hit everything at which he hacks. And he's only 23. If the offseason work increased his strength at all, perhaps a few of last season's 44 doubles will clear the fence. I'm buying the re-made Panda.

Let's see your 2010 Sandoval projection in comments, now that you've glimpsed the spring girth. Closest forecaster wins a live bear…

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Photos via AP Images

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