Friday, July 1, 2011

Miguel Sano: The Next Big Thing

The Twins had a reputation of not spending big on international free agents so when it was announced Miguel Angel Sano would be signing with a major league team in the summer of 2009 most people didn’t think the Twins would be in the mix. Even when it was revealed that the Twins were one of the teams interested in acquiring Sano most Twins fans rolled their eyes. He was the kind of talent that signed with the Yankees, the Red Sox, and the Dodgers so what chance would the Twins have to acquire a talent like this. Then a big thing happened that not a lot of people want to talk about with Sano that changed everything.

It came out that there was some question whether Sano was really 16 years old as he had been touting. That has been a question revolving guys from the Caribbean for years from guys like Orlando Hernandez to Miguel Tejada there was thought that many players from the region would lie about their age. So with that question about Sano a bunch of the big market teams washed their hands of him not knowing if he was as old as he was saying he was. Major League Baseball then began an independent investigation in order to find out how old he really was. Most people then expected him to sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates who had developed a relationship with his family. However, the Twins stayed in the weeds and kept in contact with Sano’s representative that they felt they were the best fit for Sano. As the Pirates put more and more pressure on Sano the Twins stayed patient while the investigation continued to find out his age. Then in mid-July Major League Baseball decided that they could not prove that he was not 17 years old so they allowed him to sign with a Major League team. It was then announced that Miguel Angel Sano would be signing with the Twins for 3.15 million bonus. The largest international signing in Twins history. People in the Pirate organization claim that the Sano family did not do things in good faith, but whatever the Twins won the rights to Sano and began his career with the Twins in spring of 2010. After going to extended spring training the Twins sent Sano back to the Dominican Republic to start his career close to his family. Here is how he fared there.

DSL: .344 20games 22-64 11runs 2doub 1tri 3hr 10rbi 14bb 17k .463/.547/1.009

Those were the kind of numbers that Twins brass were thinking when they signed him so they brought him back to the United States in time to play in Gulf Coast League season in Fort Myers and this is how he did there.

GCL: .291 41games 43-148 23runs 14doub 4hr 19rbi 10bb 43k .338/.466/.804

To many the question would be why would you give three plus million to a 17 year old kid from the Dominican Republic and that is a very fair question. Miguel Sano is huge at 6’3 195 and only 18 years old now so you expect him to keep growing. Plus he has such quick hands he such high power potential. Just watching videos on Sano as a 17 year old kid made you salivate at the thought of what he could do when he got more experience and got stronger. You heard comparisons to such hitters as Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, and Albert Pujols. To even be mentioned in the same breath as those guys is quite remarkable. He started at shortstop, but as he keeps getting bigger and bigger it is becoming clear he won’t be a shortstop. He does not have the quickness to play outfield so the two most likely positions he looks headed for 3rd base and first base. To be honest right now his defense is atrocious so likely he will end up a 1st baseman.

That brings the comparisons to Miguel Cabrera in my mind as they were built very similarly when they were 18 years old. So if you can get a guy of Miguel Cabrera’s potential for 3.15 million you do that in a heartbeat and just let the guy play. There is no doubt in my mind that Miguel Sano has the most upside of anyone in the Twins organization as he has the chance to be a 40 hr a year type of slugger and how often do you find guys like that. I asked these questions to my good friend Seth Stohs from to see what his opinion of Sano is and if it is as high as mine.

First question I asked Seth was what he considered Sano’s strengths and weaknesses and his response was, “He's huge. He has very quick hands. He has big power. He can hit. Lots of strikeouts and lots of errors. Hopefully he can improve in both of those areas. He's 18. He has a lot of maturing to do yet.” I totally agree with Seth on this as Sano is only 18 years old and has a lot of maturing to do, but that is par for the course with young prospects. The thing that you can’t teach though is the ability to hit the ball out of the park and he definitely has that skill and will continue to develop it.

Next, I asked Seth how surprised he was that the Twins got involved in the Sano bidding, “The Twins were always mentioned as being involved and that alone was quite surprising. When the bonus was believed to be in the $3-4 million range, I assumed that the Twins were out of it. So when it was announced he would sign with the Twins, I was rather surprised” I will go one step further when I heard how much the bonus was going to be I was positive that the Twins were out of it and when I heard that he had signed with the Twins I had to take a double take because I was quite shocked.

I then asked Seth, what does Miguel Sano need to work on the most in order to achieve his potential and he said, “Cut down the strikeouts, and find a position that he can be adequate at.” I agree with Seth somewhat as he probably will always strike out some as he won’t ever in my opinion be a guy that doesn’t strike out much, but if he can cut his strikeouts by a third with his power he could put massive numbers. More important in my opinion is find a position that you can feel good about putting at every day. Will he ever be a gold glove fielder probably not, but if you can find a position he can be decent at then that is what you are looking for.

Next, I asked Seth about Miguel Sano’s ceiling and he said, “Names like Alex Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera are mentioned as comparables. He does have power and can be very good, but he is a long ways away.” I know Seth is much more conservative when rating prospects and he has been doing this longer and is quite respected. However, I am not going to put the cold water on the hope for Sano as I truly feel that is the ceiling for him and the Twins have not had that kind of power hitter in their lineup since Harmon Killebrew.

Then I asked Seth if he thinks putting a 17 year old kid that you never know if they are going to turn out in the top two-three in prospect lists is outrageous. Seth’s response was, “Prospect lists are so individualized and personal. Everyone has a different opinion and method for how to determine. If someone's ranking is based purely on potential, ceiling and upside, then Sano has to be near the top of the Twins lists. So, no, I don't find it outrageous. I just ranked him 5th” I totally agree with Seth as I had him as my third best prospect and look for him to rise with more experience.

I then asked Seth, what position he sees Sano eventually playing, “1B or DH. But despite the errors at SS and 3B, it's not impossible for him to improve. Isn't one of the popular things to note about Derek Jeter that he committed over 60 errors his first full pro season? I would say they should try to keep him on the left side of the infield for as long as they can.” I view Sano as a future first baseman, but I agree with Seth to keep him on the left side of the diamond as long as humanly possible as his value as a shortstop or a 3rd baseman is way higher than if he is a first baseman or a DH. Who knows he could improve and become the next Alex Rodriguez at 3rd base.

Seth was then asked about when Twins fans should expect to see Sano and his response, “2015 at the earliest” To me that is such a tough question to answer as he is five promotions away from the big leagues and if he goes a year per level then we are looking at 2016. However, I expect him to jump some levels when he figures out how good he truly can be. So my projection is sometime in 2014 season so he still is a ways from joining the Twins.

Finally, the last thing I asked Seth was what about his game really excites him as a prospect guru, “The power potential. He's a long ways away from being big-league ready, but he has potential to be special.” I totally agree I feel that Sano has the tools to be a special hitter who can be unbelievable as a power hitter.

Miguel Angel Sano is an enigma in that he could turn out to be the greatest power hitter in Twins history or he could be a bust. The great thing about prospects is you don’t know how these guys are going to turn out. The fun part is watching Sano either turn into the special power hitter he has the ability to be or into the guy that struggles. Sano has the potential to be one of the greatest power hitters that this organization has ever seen. It will be interesting to see how he develops as a player as he has the ability, the work ethic, and the support staff to help him develop into the player that Twins fans have been craving since the departure of the late Harmon Killabrew. Sano has the ability to hit bombs out of Target Field like Killebrew did in old Met Stadium it just will be interesting if he can harness those skills to achieve his destiny.