Reports From Instructs: Miguel Sano

Last week I said that Byron Buxton was the headliner at Twins instructs due to being the consensus top talent in the recent draft. Unfortunately, Buxton was overmatched at times against advanced competition so the most entertaining Twins prospect to watch was Miguel Sano. Sano has had plenty of fanfare himself after he signed for $3.15 million as a 16-year-old in 2009 after highly contentious negotiations with the Pirates. This drama and the Dominican amateur baseball system as a whole were covered in the documentary Pelotero

Sano had an up and down full season this year in Low-A Beloit, hitting .258/.373/.521 with a 14.5% walk rate and 26.0% strikeout rate. Strikeouts and contact were issues all season, but Sano was also 18 years old at the start of the season. What I saw in instructs jives pretty well with the stat line and what I’ve seen of Sano in the past. I was also reminded of his upside from one swing: a two-strike fastball up and in that he hit halfway up the batter’s eye.

His power is an easy 80, stemming from obscene raw strength, very good bat speed and the torque, loft and high finish you expect from big boppers. The thing he does that sets him apart from other sluggers is he keeps his hands pretty low throughout his setup and Sano also doesn’t have a pronounced load. Most hitters have to do both things to create power and give away some contact ability, but Sano doesn’t need to and that’s why he has a chance to be the rare high-average cleanup hitter.

The problem is that Sano gets pull conscious and eager; often out on his front foot. He’s learned to lay off the breaking ball in the dirt and pitches well out of the zone but he needs to ratchet down his aggression and let the game come to him more. His balanced, quiet yet powerful swing looks a lot like the swings of players Sano could one day be: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.

I’ll be interested to watch Sano in the High-A this season to see if his swing and miss troubles are mental (poor choices about approach and pitch selection) or physical (pitch recognition issues, swing breaks down), but I think a good bit of it is mental. This means it can be overcome and he’s young enough to do it, but I think there’s enough pitch recognition problems that I’m not projecting super stardom as his hitting tools might suggest.

Using the three hit tool criteria, Sano is top of the scale in tools, well above average in bat control and below average in plate discipline, with some room for the last one to improve. Much like with Cubs tools monster Javier Baez late in 2012, the Florida State League may be advanced enough to give Sano fits in 2013 and force some changes that may benefit him greatly going forward.

Sano’s 6’3, 235 pound frame is still growing but is without shouting distance of what he’ll look like in the big leagues. His hands are okay, but his feet are just not quick enough to play third base. Sano is a below average runner that’s a little better underway and right field or first base look like his positional possibilities. Right field will expose his slow first step more but allow his plus arm to play while first base does the opposite.

Some of Sano’s defensive troubles in 2012 were due to focus issues, which he should grow out of with maturity. This also gives some hope to an immature offensive approach improving as well. From what I’ve seen, I’m comfortable projecting Sano to have an above average hit tool and on-base with 30 homers annually and fringy defense in right field. There’s obviously time for that projection to change with more looks and I should be seeing him a lot in 2013.

In the 4th round of the recent draft, the Twins took hard-throwing righty reliever Zachary Jones out of San Jose State. He signed for slot (just over $350,000), I saw him throw two innings and it’s pretty obvious what his best tool is.

Jones sat 95-98 mph for two innings with a pretty straight four-seam fastball coming from a high effort delivery. His location was acceptable for the kind of velocity he brings, but is below average and will likely never be better than fringy. Jones creates this velocity out of an average 6’1, 185 pound frame with a quick tempo, late hand break, short arm circle and an off-center delivery aimed at the left-handed batter’s box.

Jones stays tall and keeps his weight back while he swings his lead leg out and his arm drags behind before landing with a locked knee and his head down before abruptly popping his body upright. There’s also a head whack, not a lot of plane from his high three quarters slot and a very low, loose glove hand that isn’t helping his command. Last but not least, Jones has an abbreviated arm action: instead of his arm taking a full circle behind him, his arm goes from the bottom of the arc straight up behind his head before release. This creates deception by hiding the ball but it isn’t a clean arm action.

A plus-plus heater is a good place to start and Jones backed it up with a 73-78 mph curveball that was very inconsistent. Early on, it was in the lower end of the range and below average. Toward the end of his outing it was at the top of that range and flashed average potential with ¾ tilt, occasional bite and better location when he stayed on top of it. There wasn’t a lot of feel for spinning the ball in general as Jones would get under the curve and float it to the plate, but scouts told me Jones normally threw a crisper slider in college and he was trying to see if he could develop a usable curveball. If there is an above average breaking pitch down the road, Jones has a chance to be a useful big league reliever, but he recently turned 22 and will need to move quickly given his high effort delivery.

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Kiley McDaniel has worked in the scouting departments of the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates and has written for ESPN, among other outlets. Follow him on twitter for real-time thoughts on the players he’s seeing and hacky attempts at humor.

18 Responses to “Reports From Instructs: Miguel Sano”

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  1. Eminor3rd says:

    SAH-no, or suh-NO? I have always wondered.

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  2. I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced like Cano, as in Robinson.

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  3. Kyle says:

    Sano, pronounced SAH-no. Canó has an accent over the “o”, Sano does not.

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    • Bryz says:

      Not true about the accent. In “Ballplayer Pelotero,” Sano’s name does have the accent over the ‘o.’ They pronounce the name in the film as “suh-no.”

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  4. Eminor3rd says:

    I see, thanks

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  5. Tom says:

    These Dominican prospects get exploited like hell, and MLB’s recent rules limiting international signing bonuses is just the latest example of the league screwing over these players. Teams are willing to spend the money, and it changes these kids’ lives. MLB’s television deals provide millions upon millions to these teams, but heaven forbid these Dominican families get as much of this money as MLB teams are willing to give them.

    Miguel Sano is a stud. If he were an American and were in the draft, he would have received at least 2x the signing bonus he got as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic. MLB-represented scouts tried to defame him, and somehow MLB was OK with that.

    I’ve seen him play a lot and his potential is downright excellent. He knows he’s really good, which I hope doesn’t hurt him, but he could easily be a 40 HR guy at 3B by the time he’s 25 years old. Stud.

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    • Ryan says:

      Yeah, in Pelotero, Rene Gayo, the Pirates director of Latin American scouting came off like a thug. That term gets thrown around a lot in sports, mostly at immature kids from the inner city. But Gayo seemed to embrace the identity and the movie makes it seem like its his job to be the Pirates thug in the Dominican Republic.

      There is two sides to every story, but the side that was shown in Pelotero made it seem like the Pirates point man in the Dominican Republic would be right at home breaking legs for a bookie.

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      • Samuel Deduno says:

        Sano probably wouldn’t have received much more money. Prep prospects generally aren’t #1 overall and I couldn’t see him overtaking Gerrit Cole, Danny Hultzen, Bauer, or Starling (thought very highly of at draft time). Archie Bradley gt $5 million but he was given a high bonus so he wouldn’t play college football. Francisco Lindor got $2.9 million and Javier Baez got $2.625 million.

        If you believe he would have gone in the top 5, then he would probably have received a million or two more. If not, then he probably would have received about the same.

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    • majnun says:

      Fwiw if he was American he wouldn’t have been paid as a 16 year old

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  6. JdeWitt88 says:

    I live in ft Myers are these open to anyone?

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  7. Great write up, McDaniel!

    It will be kind of weird to think of the Twins not having a bleh third baseman. They haven’t had an outstanding player at the third bag outside of Gary Gaetti and Harmon Killebrew, if I’m remembering correctly. (Though Koskie had a good, albeit quick, career.)

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    • Jon L. says:

      But he goes on to question whether he has the quickness for third base, suggesting he’ll settle in as a first baseman or a slow right fielder with a plus arm.

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    • garrioch13 says:

      He won’t be a 3B in MN. The next best bet is Travis Harrison who may not stick and another international guy from this year, Amaurys Minier. I haven’t seen enough of his glove or arm to know if he can stick.

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  8. Hal says:

    Jibe, not jive.

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  9. Bobby Ayala says:

    These are very helpful reports, keep them coming, thanks!

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  10. Larry says:

    How can you state as fact that Sano’s defense suffered from lack of focus? That seems like a lame excuse for errors and hard to support even if you were watching every game of his. What is he not mentally ready when the pitch is made? It’s not like being unaware of the scenario translates to errors anyway. I guess I’m looking for clarification on his defense.

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    • Samuel Deduno says:

      I’ve heard others say he doesn’t care about his defense which can be explained by lack of focus. From watching him, it is obvious that he is very lackadaisical in the field during in and outs and between innings. He barely leans down on groundballs, sometimes lobs the ball to first base, tries to make the plays look as flashy as possible. With a player who has struggled so badly with defense, it would seem that he should be more focused on it.

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