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.

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Jake in Pittsburgh
Jake in Pittsburgh

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