Fort Myers, Fla., was not supposed to be on the travel schedule for Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano last season, at least for anything more than spring training.
Yet the pair spent several weeks together at the Twins’ year-round facility, rehabilitating injuries that curtailed their seasons and halted their charge up the organizational ladder. Sano missed all of 2014 because of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Buxton was limited to 31 minor league games because of a bruised left wrist during spring training, then a bruised toe, sore left shoulder, a bruised right wrist and a concussion. He then broke a finger on his left hand 13 games into the Arizona Fall League.
So the two got to know each other while recovering.
They fished. They watched plenty of baseball games. And they talked about being major leaguers in 2015.
“That would be awesome,” Buxton said Friday during TwinsFest at Target Field. “I know during rehab that’s basically what we talked about. We watched a lot of major league games together, but it would be nothing like playing side by side with him.”
Sano grinned at the thought of them in the same lineup.
“Byron lead off,” Sano said. “Me third, fourth, fifth, wherever I need to be in that lineup.”
Some Twins officials felt, if everything broke right. both Sano and Buxton could have debuted last season. With the Twins hunting high and low for center fielders before trying shortstop Danny Santana out there, Buxton probably would have gotten a shot. The disabled list got in the way.
A year later, the two remain top prospects needing at-bats to make up for lost time.
“It’s disappointing they both had to deal with injuries last year but we’re excited about getting them back this year,” said Brad Steil, Twins director of minor league operations. “Pressing is not going to get them anywhere. It’s about getting them back healthy and getting back to doing what they have been doing.”
One winner in all this is new Class AA Chattanooga manager Doug Mientkiewicz, who managed both as they came through Class A Fort Myers and has a great relationship with both. While not official, there’s a chance both will begin the season at the Twins’ new affiliate.
And if they thrive anything is possible. Sano saw that last year when his buddy Kennys Vargas and Danny Santana were called up from Class AA New Britain.
“When I saw Kennys Vargas, Danny Santana and Jorge Polanco [briefly called up from Fort Myers] I was frustrated,” Sano said. “I like to play.”
Can Buxton, the second overall pick in 2012, and Sano, an international signing in 2009, reach Target Field this season? Both arrive in Fort Myers on Feb. 15.
Buxton has recovered from his broken finger and was cleared two weeks ago to resume all baseball-related activities. He couldn’t lift weights until two weeks ago because of his finger, so he did a lot of leg work. He’s coming to camp hoping to “open eyes” and get off to a good start.
“I got some value out of the regular season and the Fall League,” Buxton said. “I know what I need to work on to help myself better at the plate and defensively. I got a little better at slowing the game down and not push myself into bad mistakes.”
Sano has been getting up at 6 a.m. at home in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, to work on skills. Then he would join Robinson Cano, Alfonso Soriano, Johnny Cueto and others in the gym during the afternoon.
Sano weighs 258 pounds, and said he would like to play around 245 to 250. The Twins will be more cautious with Sano.
“Sano might be a little more of a question mark just because he’s been out a little longer and has been dealing with that injury,” Steil said. “We just have to see where he is at.”
It’s extremely unlikely that either will break camp with the Twins, given the at-bats they missed out on last season. How fast they reach the majors will depend on how fast they can knock the rust off after the inactivity — and if they can stay healthy.
It’s not far-fetched to think that both will play in Target Field this season, and fans can see why Buxton and Sano have been so highly touted.
“That would be a realistic point of view, from my vantage point,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “They’re both very talented, and if they have the type of years you would hope with their type of skill sets, there’s no reason not to say, well, they have a chance this year.’’