FORT MYERS, FLA. – Each morning at spring training, Miguel Sano hits the field with all the gear he needs to hone his skills as a third baseman.
Like his glove, his sunglasses, his wristbands — and his Hall of Famer.
Paul Molitor hasn’t been far from Sano for most of camp, lending his expansive knowledge of the finer points of being a third baseman.
“If he’s playing over here, I’m going to be standing near him, watching him and trying to get in his ear about why he was, where he was at and what he was thinking of on this particular play,’’ said Molitor, a baserunning and infield coordinator at camp. “He has a great attitude about it. He’s always gracious about receiving the info. He’s very coachable.’’
The Twins have asked Molitor to help Sano because they could solve their third base problem for years if they can keep his big power bat at the hot corner. Sano was signed to a $3.15 million contract in 2009, the most ever for a Latin position player at the time. Since then, they’ve watched him continue to grow — he added 1 ½ inches over the past year and is now 6 feet, 4 inches. They also watched him commit 42 errors last season while at Class A Beloit.
While a 6-4, 240-pounder seems destined for the outfield — if not the NFL — the Twins are not ready to pull Sano off third base just yet. They feel he has the hands, agility and arm to play the position, despite his growth spurt. And last season was Sano’s first full season at third, giving the Twins a wait-and-see attitude on his development.
To aid in that development, they have asked Molitor, who played 791 games at third during his career, to get involved.
Sano, 19, could be on the fast track to the majors — as fast as 2014, although 2015 is the realistic goal at present. He batted .258 for Beloit last season but hit 28 homers and drove in 100 runs in 129 games. He walked 80 times, for a .373 on-base percentage, and struck out 114.
The Twins took Sano to Tampa on Thursday to face the Yankees, and he came through with two singles and two above-average plays in the field during a 6-1 victory.
Afterward, Sano was asked about the strides he’s made defensively.
“When I played third base for the first time, I work with Paul Molitor,’’ said Sano, who’s honing his English skills, as well. “I work every day at third base.
“I listen to him and watch him. He tells me about the defense. He says something every time I play third.’’
Sano and Molitor usually are on one of the back fields at the Lee County Sports Complex this spring around 8:30 a.m. on days he’s not playing minor league road sgames.
Signed as a shortstop, Sano played that position in 2010 as a minor leaguer then split time between short and third in 2011 while in rookie ball at Elizabethton, Tenn. The move to third was completed last season, and Sano immediately realized how much faster things happen at third as opposed to shortstop.
A good third baseman has to be composed and collected as rocket-line drives come his way. He also has to pounce on slow rollers and bunts like a linebacker chasing a fumble. And moving from short can be a challenge.
“You’re going from short, which is a run-and-catch position, to third, which is a step-and-catch position,’’ said former Twin Ron Coomer, who was a shortstop in high school before moving to third. “It’s a weird transition.’’