Miguel Sano Brings the Thunder to Double-A

I don’t often hang grades on prospects in my articles. I certainly have a strong interest in grading and I wouldn’t be able to do this job without a pretty good understanding of the process and scale involved. All the same, I’m typically reluctant to do things that would be perceived as me “playing scout,” and it’s easy to embarrass yourself and lose credibility as a writer by consistently pushing a poor grading scale in your pieces. Grading is something I put a lot of thought into, but I find it often doesn’t add much to my articles to include grades.

I had a discussion with a scout a few years ago about grades, and how averse I was (and still am) to labelling someone as having an “80” or “8” tool. The scout quickly agreed with me. We laughed about how despite the fact that there aren’t many 8’s out there, the first few times you see one it’s often… a bit underwhelming, believe it or not. The first time I saw a tool I thought deserved an “80” I thought about it for a couple innings, made damn sure I really felt that way and then finally wrote it down. Then I had a visceral reaction: “Is that it?” “Is that all there is?” “Where is the light shining down from the heavens and the choir of angels that’s supposed to announce this??” The consequence of hanging an 8 on a player’s tool means in 20 or 30 years I should be able to say that tool was the best I ever saw – or at least in the discussion thereof. “That is the best arm I’ll ever see??” The scout laughed and agreed with my sentiment, expressing his own similar reservations and doubts.

Well, I don’t have any reservations or doubts about saying Miguel Sano has 80 power. I’m confident that in my old age if someone asks me who had the most power I ever saw that the name “Sano” will quickly come to mind.

The Breakdown

Miguel Sano was considered the gem of the 2008 International free agent class. He was then known as Miguel Jean. Jean is his father’s last name, and that was how he was first know state side. He later decided to go by Sano, which is his mother’s maiden name. Sano/Jean was long attached to the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were reportedly far along in negotiations with the player when the Twins swooped in and bested Pittsburgh’s offer. Minnesota landed the Dominican prodigy for a cool $3.15 million. At the time that sum was the second largest bonus ever paid to a Latin American prospect behind Oakland’s signing of pitcher Michael Ynoa.

Sano made his long awaited professional debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. He raked there to the tune of .344/.463/.547 over 20 games, showing the org. he was ready for more. That “more” turned out to be the Gulf Coast League. Sano got to the GCL… and raked again. His GCL numbers ended up .291/.338/.466 while still only 17 years old. The stage was now set and the hype had begun to build. Twins fans and prospect enthusiasts were thus eager to see what Sano would do in the hitter friendly Appalachian League. The big man didn’t disappoint. He hit .292/.352/.637  with 20 home runs in 66 games. His 2012 would begin in a very different setting: the cold weather, pitcher friendly Midwest League. The MWL is the first full season league for many players and the average age is between 21 and 22 years old. Still a teenager, Sano continued abusing baseballs with a .258/.373/.521 slash line. Perhaps just as importantly, the Dominican slugger turned a corner with his approach at the plate. Strikeouts had always been an issue with Sano’s long arms and his propensity for taking big cuts at the ball.  Now the walks started to come. In the Appy in 2011 Sano walked 7.8% of the time. At Beloit in the MWL his increased selectivity at the plate resulted in a 14.5% walk rate. The high\ strikeout totals did remain, but the fears of Sano becoming a high K%/low BB% hacker faded. The Twins minor league assignments didn’t get any easier to start 2013, either. The Florida State League is perhaps the toughest run scoring environment in the Minor Leagues and Hammond Stadium in particular is a tough place to hit. Sano rose to yet another challenge and his absurd .330/.424/.655 performance over the first two months left the Twins no chance but to promote him to Double-A.

Sano’s swing is savage. Good bat speed. Top of the charts strength and raw power. Tremendous leverage and a swing plane that creates generous amounts of loft and backspin. Plenty of hip torque and efficient weight transfer. Sano has all these things and the result is usually baseballs travelling a loooong distance. Will Sano hit for average as well as power? How he handles the tests he’s going to face at Double-A against more advanced pitching will reveal a lot, but I’m of the opinion he will. He’s generally pretty patient and looks for a pitch to drive. He won’t often swing at and miss curves in the dirt or numbers high fastballs. As a hitter he’s not a real free swinger. He will get caught expanding his zone in all directions at times, and he can be very aggressive when he gets into hitter’s counts. Sano definitely likes to get his arms extended and like many power hitters you can bust him with fastballs on the hands or tempt him to protect the plate with soft and spinning stuff low and away. On the upside, he has already improved his approach immensely since entering the pro ranks. Sano is still so young that I remain really optimistic. I don’t think that he’ll ever challenge for batting titles or anything, but I don’t think we’re looking at Adam Dunn here (not that that would be bad!). While Sano will continue to rack up the strikeouts that shouldn’t prevent him from being an offensive force.

There have been some questions in the past about what position Sano will play. He’s a really big boy. He’s now listed at 6’4″ and 236lbs. Jeff Moore of The Hardball Times pointed out to me last night on twitter that Sano would be one of the biggest third baseman in the history of the game by height/weight combo. He’s right… but I still think that third base is the best fit. Sano is actually a surprisingly good athlete for his size. His actions at third looked a little stiff to me in March, but at New Britain he was smoother and showed decent first step quickness. Last night he made a great play coming in on a bunt and then snagged a hard hit ball at him by the next batter. He’s not going to be a gold glove third baseman, yet he fits over there in the “big guy with a strong arm” mold. Sano’s arm is definitely an easy plus, too. He doesn’t always let it fly, but he cam unleash rocket throws to first base. He’s a pretty fringe average runner right now.  The acceleration isn’t great and he’s slow out of the box. He’s a little better once he gets moving. I’m not sure how the athleticism will carry over into his 30’s and he may be forced off the position at some point later in his career… but the more I see of the player the more convinced I am that the time for that will come many years in the future.

Overall, I view Sano as a potentially special player with the chance to win multiple home runs titles.

The Path to Playing Time

Minnesota is a team that entered the year playing Trevor Plouffe at third base every day. Right now they’re playing Jamey Carroll there. Full Stop. In the farm system, Deibinson Romero has some tools and has been a nice surprise as a late bloomer. Romero may get a chance at the position soon, but I don’t think the 26 year old has a strong enough profile to feature in the team’s long term thinking. 2011 1st round pick Travis Harrison is a good third base prospect in his own right. I actually prefer Sano’s glove at third base to Harrison’s. Harrison’s tools also aren’t anywhere near as loud and there’s not a lot of guys who could get in Sano’s way anyway.

When will he be ready? Sano got his first at bats in the the high minors yesterday. He could use some time to adjust to the pitchers of that level as they typically have better secondaries to go with finer command and control. Minnesota has exceeded expectations this season with a 29-33 record, but they’re not really built to compete right now. So there’s no real imperative for the Twins to add him any time soon. Still, with this much raw ability it won’t be long before he’s ready for the challenge of major league pitching.

  • On 40 Man Roster: No
  • Options Remaining: 3

What to Expect

Sano could hit 30 or 40 plus home runs every season. If he continues to make adjustments I could see him hitting for a batting average in the .250-.260 range. He can even steal a bag here or there when the pitcher ignores him. Guys who hit 30 home runs tend to hit in the middle of the order, so you can assume the counting stats will be there, too.

  • Mixed League Value: Strong. Having the league leader in home runs usually works out nicely.
  • AL Only League Value: Excellent.
  • Ottoneu Value: Strong.
  • OBP League Value: Strong. Over the last couple seasons Sano has really transformed into a patient hitter. Sure, some of that is pitchers trying to be careful since he can really punish mistakes… but even major league pitchers will want to be careful here.

Marc Hulet ranked Sano 2nd among Minnesota Twins prospects this offseason.

Many thanks to Jeff Dooley, Bob Dowling and New Britain Rock Cats for courtesies extended.

Thanks for reading -AS

EDIT: Wanted to quickly add this video showing Sano making a great play on a bunt by Gift Ngoepe:

 




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Al Skorupa writes about baseball & baseball prospects for Bullpen Banter and Fangraphs/Rotographs. He lives in Rhode Island. He watches & videotapes a good amount of amateur and minor league baseball. You can follow him on twitter @alskor.


32 Responses to “Miguel Sano Brings the Thunder to Double-A”

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  1. Jake in Pittsburgh says:

    As a Pirates fan, all I can think is “woulda, coulda, shoulda”.

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  2. chri521 says:

    Buxton and Sano, the future is bright offensively at least. Let’s hope they don’t try to ruin them like they apparently tried to do with Carlos Gomez.

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    • Giovani says:

      And David Ortiz.

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      Buxton and Sano have a whole lot more talent than Gomez ever did. Mets had Gomez on a real fast track before he ever reached the Twin Cities, too.

      I’ve seen Buxton, too… and this darn Twins system is making my life hard now, as I can’t write up Minnesota prospects every week! I’d still take Buxton over Sano, and Buxton has best player in the game potential.

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  3. PillsburyFlowboy says:

    Great to see him getting a promotion after dominating A+. Personally, I can’t wait to see him in the bigs. Any chance that Eddie Rosario gets a look at AA as well? Clearly he is not up to Sano’s level but he has been quietly good too. I would love to see them advance together.

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    • PillsburyFlowboy says:

      Probably should have checked first, but Rosario got the promotion too. Sano and Rosario should give the Twins a real nice boost in the infield in a year or two. Add Buxton to the mix and the Twins might actually be pretty good sooner than we thought.

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      • Al Skorupa says:

        Rosario was really good. It was my first look at him since he was at the WBC when I was down at Twins camp. Good athlete. Runs really well. Was pleasantly surprised at the fine quality of his glovework at 2B. Looks natural in the infield with smooth actions for a guy converted to the outfield… what? a year ago?

        At the plate he’s got very good hands, a quick bat and a loose swing with a knack for getting the barrel on the ball. He needs those qualities though, as he really wraps up his hands and bat behind him when he loads. Creates a whole lot of extra distance… real long lead. I like him considerably but I’d like to see them shorten that up some.

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  4. LuckyStrikes says:

    I know it’s a lazy comp to Stanton, but there aren’t many MLB players with 80 grade power either. The comparison is interesting:

    Stanton (2009 A+ ball, age 20):
    .294/.390/.578
    Iso: .283
    wOBA: .437
    BB: 13%
    K: 21%

    Sano (2013 A+ ball, age 20):
    .330/.424/.655
    Iso: .325
    wOBA: .473
    BB: 11.9%
    K: 25%

    Stanton (2009 AA ball, age 20):
    .231/.311/.455
    Iso: .224
    wOBA: .345
    BB: 9%
    K: 29%

    Sano (2013 AA ball, age 20):
    TBD

    The following season (2010), MIA started Stanton in AA again where he dominated to the tune of a .494 wOBA before being called up after 50+ games. Could be the same track that Sano is on…

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    • dirck says:

      Great comparison Lucky . I was on Stanton early and grabbed him in all of my dynasty leagues when he was in high A and still have him . I had Sano from the time he signed and traded him away because I felt that he would take longer and was a bigger risk .Lokks like I might have been wrong about him .

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      I’m glad you did it and not me, Lucky! Some interesting points here and I can see it for the most part.

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  5. shibboleth says:

    So the concensus is Sano is still one year away from the bigs?

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      Yes. At least one year I would say. Middle of next summer certainly makes some sense, but if Twins aren’t in the race I’d probably say next September. His discipline and approach are much farther along than I expected them to be, but he’ll still need some Double-A at-bats here.

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  6. Mike D says:

    The Thunder that’s in AA is located in Trenton

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  7. Joey Ballgame says:

    This was a fantastic article and my intent is not to throw a bucket of water on it with a troll comment, so please don’t take the remainder of this comment in that manner.

    But I found one of the most interesting parts was the assessment that Sano COULD play second base in spite of his size as the bat is well noted everywhere. However, according to FanGraphs, Miguel Cabrera would take the crown as the largest third baseman as he is listed at 6’4″, 240 lbs (in no way suggesting a comp here, simply sharing an observation):

    http://www.fangraphs.com/statss.aspx?playerid=1744&position=1B/3B

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    • Giovani says:

      This is a strange comment. I don’t see anywhere here that says he could play second base. For third base, he says, “one of the biggest third baseman,” not “the biggest.” Yes, Cabrera is one of the biggest as well.

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      • Al Skorupa says:

        Ha… just scared the heck out of me. I just scanned my piece like crazy looking for a reference to second base… but I think Joey Ballgame just meant “third” above!

        The Cabrera comp is another obvious one that makes sense (body type, not necessarily bat since we’re talking about the reigning triple crown winner). Funny too, since Cabrera moving to third was much lampooned… and while he’s no great shakes there, he’s not the full-on butcher many predicted.

        It’s my prediction that by the end of the year you’ll be hearing more positive reports from everywhere on Sano’s defense.

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      • Giovani says:

        Right – he’d had to cut his strikeouts in half (or even lower) and greatly increase his contact rates to be in the Cabrera comp conversation, right?

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      • Al Skorupa says:

        I’m really not sure what a guy could do to get a Miggy comp for me. Tough sell.

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    • Tim says:

      Sano just turned 20. I’m pretty sure he’ll put on more than four pounds in the next year-plus.

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      • Joey Ballgame says:

        Apologies – definitely a typo on second base there!

        Also wasn’t trying to compare Miggy and Sano in terms of hitting talent at all, just throwing size out there as size comparison at the position.

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  8. Fantastico says:

    Just to clarify, what happened to him during negotiations with multiple MLB teams was disgraceful. The Pirates weren’t “far along in negotiations”, they were using a dirty bleeped named Rene Gayo to exploit Miguel and other Latin American talents. As far as I know, Gayo still works for the Pirates and so they deserve exactly what they get. From a baseball perspective, I hope Sano has a little chip on his shoulder and destroys those teams that didn’t just pass him over but were used by dirty dealers to decrease the money he should have gotten.

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  9. Joe B says:

    In my opinion, nothing makes an author lose credibility faster than the phrase “he likes to extend his arms.” This is the biggest fallacy in hitting since “squashing the bug.” Look at every good hitter ever. When they make contact their arms are tight to their body with their back elbow many times still touching their body. Arm extension happens significantly after contact and is merely a result of the bodys inability to control massive amounts of centrifugal force .

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    • Al Skorupa says:

      That’s not what I was talking about. It was meant here as a nice way of saying he has a longer swing and can have some trouble getting around on inside heat. Likes to take a healthy cut at the ball.

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  10. SHANIQUA says:

    SANO MAN HE LOOKS LIKE A BIG MAN CANT WAIT TIL HE GETS TO THE TWIN CITIES..IF HE NEEDS A PLACE TO LIVE HE CAN STAY WITH ME FOR NOW..THE WHITE TWINS ARE BIASED AGAINST BLACK LADIES BUT SANO HE LOOKS LIKE HE KNOWS HOW TO PLEASE A LADY

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