There is no shortage in interest of Miguel Sano among Minnesota Twins fans.
Last weekend, extended lines stretched around the Dome of people waiting to secure an autograph of a player who is still several years away from making his big league debut. This week, MLB.com announced their Top 100 prospects and labeled Sano the best third base prospect in baseball as well as the 12th overall in the game. He’s all the rage.
Rarely do I field any question more from Twins fans these days than “When do you think that Sano will be ready?” Pronunciations of his last name will vary but the curiosity for the kid who has pummeled pitching at the lowest levels of the minors is growing rapidly in the Twin Cities and beyond.
Defensively the mission is clear: Cut down on the errors. As a player just learning the position, this should be improved upon by time and repetition. Offensively, his obvious strong suit, there are a few wrinkles to smooth out prior to making it to Minnesota.
Those who have followed his development on a regular basis have seen the unbelievable scouting grades on his power. This past August, former Baseball Prospectus prospect maven and current Houston Astros front office member Kevin Goldstein reiterated that he viewed Sano’s power potential as an 80 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Sano’s first season in the Midwest League (low-A), certainly did nothing but possibly make scouts think about adding a few more numbers on to that scale to account for his pop. In addition to leading the league with 28 home runs (nine more than the next closest), he also led the league in isolated power average (.263) as well. That is an impressive statistic considering the league’s average for isolated power is around .120. And, the Midwest League, while favorable to hitters is not nearly the launching pad as compared to other leagues such as the California and Carolina leagues.
While playing like a man among boys thus far in his career, at just age 19, Sano has plenty of adjustment to be made before launching shots into the third left field deck at Target Field. For example, not striking out so damn much.
Analysts like to compare Sano’s potential to that of Miguel Cabrera. With Sano’s large frame that has not matured fully, one can see where the comparison comes from. Yet one key difference is that Cabrera struck out in about half of the minor league plate appearances that the Twins prospect has. Cabrera, who was called up by the Marlins as a 20-year-old, whiffed in just 16% of his minor league plate appearances. Meanwhile Sano, in 500 fewer professional plate appearances, has struck out 26% of the time.
One correction the Twins and Sano have made since his Gulf Coast League days is quieting his noisy hands. In 2010, still a raw player fresh from the Dominican, Sano demonstrated a healthy bit of waggle to his bat – that is the constant movement of his hands prior to and when the pitch was being delivered.
Fast forward to the 2012 season with Beloit, Sano’s swing is much steadier, keeping his hands and bat still, which should lead to better contact and a quicker point A-to-B swing.
Obviously, this change does not appear to have influenced his strikeout totals -- as that total rose again from 2011 to 2012 – but the difference was that he saw a noticeable reduction in the amount of strikeouts swinging (from 21% in ’11 to 18% in ’12) and an increase in the strikeouts looking (from 5% in ’11 to 8% in ’12). Incremental but perhaps an important step in Sano’s development.
In addition to his strikeout rate, another area of his game to watch in 2013 is his line drive rate. Line drive rate is an important indicator which shows if a hitter is making solid, square contact. Likewise, among the three methods of putting the ball in play, line drives have the highest percentage of turning into a hit.
Sano’s line drive rate has declined over the last three years while his fly ball rate has spiked, particularly from 2011 to 2012. According to minorleaguecentral.com, Sano held a 38% fly ball rate in 2011 but witnessed that rate jump to 48% last year. Not surprising, Sano’s batting average also dropped sharply from .292 to .258. Unless you are a player who can hit out a vast majority of their fly balls and while Sano led the Midwest League in the amount of flies to leave the park, there are still a high number that stay in the confines and those are turned into outs at a very favorable percentage to the defense.
Without having watched him play on a regular basis, the compilation of videos available on the internets show somewhere around 15-to-20 of his swings. This reveals a player who is extremely susceptible to chasing after the low ball. As opponents’ reports spread from the Appy League to the Midwest League – not to mention pitchers’ ability to locate better -- Sano likely has seen a high dosage of pitches down. This tendency may explain the spike in his fly balls (as well as his hefty strikeout rate). When going after a pitch down in the zone, Sano will drop the bat at an angle which causes hitters to elevate the ball more frequently. As mentioned before, a good amount of those knee-high fastballs can be lifted up and out of the park but an even high total will be turned into outs in the outfield.
Sano, who will start the 2013 season with the Ft Myers Miracle, will almost certainly experience a drop in his power numbers – particularly his home run totals. Ignore it. The Florida State League squelches offensive output. Rather, focus on the peripheral numbers (is he striking out more or less) and his batted ball tendencies (is he producing more line drives). Most of all: Show patience. There’s no question that Miguel Sano has a bright future ahead of him but he has a couple more years of work ahead of him.