Thursday, July 2, 2015

Sano in July

Miguel Sano takes a throw at third
during a spring training infield drill.
The Twins after Thursday's no-offense loss shipped Kennys Vargas all the way back to Double A. And the recall was of Miguel Sano, power prospect extraordinaire.

Byron Buxton is generally rated a better prospect than Sano because his tool set is more varied. Sano, listed as 6-4, 260 pounds, isn't a burner, his ultimate defensive position is uncertain and it's possible he won't hit for average (but he might). But he has power like nobody the Twins have had since Harmon Killebrew, and that's a very valuable piece.

As with the now-sidelined Buxton, this was supposed to have happened last year. But Sano injured his elbow late in the 2013 season. The decision was made, in consultation with medical experts, to try rest-and-rehab during the offseason, And very early in spring training, Sano made an offbalance throw, the ligament gave out, and he had Tommy John surgery and missed the entire season.

The rusty Sano hit .159/.303/.381 in 18 April games for Double-A Chattanooga, striking out 22 times in 63 at-bats. The day Terry Ryan went to Chattanooga, Sano got three hits. His slash line for May: .303/.374/.556, with 26 strikeouts in 93 at-bats. In June: .329/.432/.658. Yeah, I think he can move up.

Sano is 22, and his purported position is third base. But very few 260-pounders survive long there, and Sano's defense is still said to be uneven. Plus Trevor Plouffe has become a good glove man at the hot corner -- something I didn't foresee as recently as early last season -- and is one of the few fixtures in the lineup.

So Sano figures to be the designated hitter. This is uncharacteristic of the Twins, who more than a decade ago kept David Ortiz in the minors to work on his first base defense rather than let him DH in the bigs. My joke at the time, repeated frequently, was that Ortiz didn't field well enough to DH.

This move brings to mind the arrival in Baltimore of Eddie Murray, who had reached Triple A Rochester at age 20 (1976) and slugged .530 with 11 homers in 53 games there. That spring, Earl Weaver wanted Murray on his roster. The front office wanted to send him back to the minors to work on his defense. Weaver said: We'll work on his defense here. He can hit in the meantime. 

Murray played 160 games for Baltimore in 1977, mostly as the designated hitter. Veteran Lee May was the primary first baseman that year. The next season, the two sluggers changed roles. Murray wound up with 504 home runs, 3,255 hits, three Gold Gloves, the major league record for games played at first base and a Hall of Fame plaque. The DH season certainly didn't hurt Murray's development.

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