Miguel Sano’s demotion to Class A Fort Myers may be a pivotal event in his career and in the development of what was supposed to be a championship-caliber group of young Twins players.
Here’s what you should know about Sano:
1. He’s not alone.
In 2006, Justin Morneau was failing in the big leagues. On a trip to Seattle, Morneau went out with some of his Vancouver-area friends.
The Twins were 25-33. Morneau was hitting .235. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire called Morneau into his office and asked whether he wanted to have a good time or become a star.
The Twins would win 96 games. Morneau would hit .364 with a 1.031 OPS the rest of the way and won the MVP award. The Twins also once demoted A.J. Pierzynski from the majors to Class AA to shock him, and he became a championship-caliber big-league catcher. For talented athletes, one conversation can alter the course of a career.
2. He’s not lazy.
My criticisms of Sano’s weight should not be confused with criticisms of his work ethic. I’ve seen Sano take hundreds of extra grounders in the high heat of a Fort Myers summer. He’s a lot like Kirby Puckett in that he believes in conditioning himself at the ballpark.
Puckett never worked out in an offseason until the winter of 1995-96, when he began to realize that he would need better conditioning to extend his career. As a young infielder hovering around 300 pounds, Sano will have to come to that realization earlier than the similarly shaped Puck.
3. Fort Myers is ideal.
Twins brass was right to send Sano to Fort Myers instead of Class AAA for myriad reasons. Fort Myers has better facilities than Rochester — including a healthy-foods-only cafeteria in the Player Development Center.
The Twins need to repair Sano’s hitting approach, and his lifestyle. Being sent to Class A should help Sano get the message.
There are two problems with sending a player to Class AAA: The player, if talented, could quickly dominate lesser competition and begin itching to return to the big leagues. And: Class AAA rosters are filled with players who think they belong in the big leagues, and who develop bad attitudes.
4. Twins might miss Mientkiewicz.
The Twins dismissed Doug Mientkiewicz as their Class AA manager last year. Mientkiewicz, who had a strong tough-love relationship with Sano, may have been the perfect mentor for Sano at this juncture of his career. Mientkiewicz, like Morneau and Pierzynski, had to bounce between the minors and majors before establishing himself.
5. Home plate > dinner plate.
In terms of playing third base long-term and staying healthy, Sano’s weight is important. For the short term, his hitting approach is much more important.
Twins analyst Roy Smalley recently told Sano that he should try to hit home runs to center field, instead of trying to pull everything to left and making himself vulnerable to any pitches on the outside part of the plate.
Smalley immediately went to Molitor’s office and apologized for coaching one of his players. Molitor told Smalley he would kiss him if Sano starting hitting homers to center.
From the front office through the field staff, the Twins believe that if Sano tries to punish the ball to center and right he will return to All-Star form. Instead, he has halfheartedly tried to slap the ball the other way.
Sano needs to realize that if he sets up to hit homers to center, pitchers won’t have any idea what to throw him. He’ll regain the upper hand.
6. He’s capable.
What’s most disappointing about Sano’s performance is that he proved how intelligent he can be at the plate as a rookie in 2015. He came to the big leagues and immediately started batting in the middle of the order for a contender, and immediately became their most valuable player.
Joe Mauer, the Twins’ smartest hitter, told teammates then that Sano was the rare young hitter who could set up a pitcher.
What Sano needs to realize is that the difference between his current career path and his ideal career path might amount to $300 million in gross pay.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib