FORT MYERS, FLA. – Miguel Sano’s ascension to the Twins was derailed last year because of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. He played his first game Wednesday in almost 17 months, and was talking about his hopes of hitting the ball to the opposite field as he prepared to face the Gophers.
Goodness, with all that time off, shouldn’t Sano — one of baseball’s top power prospects — be thinking of pulling the ball into the Gulf of Mexico?
“[My goal] is to hit the ball to right field,” he said. “If I hit the ball to right field I can hit it to left or the middle. I can hit every pitch.”
The 21-year-old actually announced his return to game action with a vicious line drive to center that nearly took Gophers righthander Toby Anderson along for the ride.
“It felt the same as the last time I played,” Sano said. “I didn’t try to hit a home run. I tried to hit it right or middle.”
He knows he will have plenty of moments to pound baseballs and remind fans why he’s considered one of the best power-hitting prospects in the game. Sano plans to emerge from his lost season and continue his quest to play in Target Field this season.
Three games in this spring, there have been little signs of rust. He was 1-for-1 with a single and handled his one chance at third base flawlessly.
Sano is one big kid, listed at 6-4 and weighing around 260 pounds.
“I lost 2-3 pounds last week,” he said proudly.
The last time he was active, he hit 35 home runs and drove in 103 RBI between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain. That gave him 83 home runs in his last three minor league seasons.
“His bat is his best suit, that is why he’s gotten so much attention,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “He’s a big strong guy who can hit the ball a long way. He uses all the fields pretty well. He’s got a decent eye; He’s not a free swinger. He’s a middle of the order type.”
A major league debut in 2014 seemed realistic, but he began having problems with his elbow. He was examined in October 2013, and everyone who saw him — including noted specialist Dr. James Andrews — said they believed rehabilitation was the way to go. But Sano tore the ulnar collateral ligament during an intrasquad game during camp last year, costing him the season.
Yet he’s proceeding as if last year never happened.
He jokes with teammates, plays games on his phone when he has free time and is all smiles as he maneuvers through the Twins clubhouse at Hammond Stadium.
When he grabs a bat, he becomes a man. His batting practice sessions are stop-what-you’re-doing-and-pay-attention moments. He has boasted to the media that he will hit 40 homers in the majors.
But the Twins already know what he can do with the bat. What they want to see in camp is that he can handle third base defensively and keep his weight down.
“There are things that are going to be a challenge for him,” manager Paul Molitor said. “We’ve got to keep an eye on him. He’s a big boy. He carries it pretty well, but you’ve got to have some athleticism. He’s got to keep that, he’s a young kid, if he wants to play a corner infield position in the big leagues, especially third base.
“But he’s doing fine. It’s good to see him healthy. He hasn’t had any issues with that elbow, and that’s what we’re trying to make sure we protect against as spring unfolds.”
Sano talks of making the Twins out of spring training but likely will start in the minors. He could be called up sooner than later if Trevor Plouffe, the incumbent at third, is injured or traded. Most likely, Sano will have to wait for his chance.
It’s a chance he dreamed would happen last season, before the elbow problem.
“I feel really good,” Sano said. “The last year, when I came over here for spring training, I got hurt and felt really mad about that. But now I have an opportunity to be with my friends here and try to make the team. It is a very good experience to be here.”