Have the Twins ruined one of their best prospects? Miguel Sano tears up the Florida State League, gets promoted to New Britain, and immediately sinks to the bottom — 1-for-15 in his first week in Class AA, the easy extra-base power suddenly gone. Looks like the 20-year-old Dominican is in over his head … right?
Eh, not so much.
“He’s not struggling at all,” New Britain manager Jeff Smith said. “He and [Eddie] Rosario, I wouldn’t say they’ve fallen off. If you watch their at-bats, they’re having good at-bats. If that wasn’t the case, maybe you’d be concerned, but we’re seeing the same command of the zone, the same quick bat that we saw in Fort Myers.”
In fact, Sano bounced back from his rough start to bat .300 ever since, with six home runs punctuating the point — including two, with five RBI, Friday night.
Rosario, the second baseman promoted on the same day, is hitting .233 for the Rock Cats — “and he’s hit a lot of balls hard, right at guys. He’s hit in some bad luck since he’s been here,” Smith said.
Moving from Class A to AA is the toughest jump in the minor leagues, Smith said, especially at midseason, and he considers Sano and Rosario to be fairly typical examples of the adjustment involved.
“You get here, you have to find a place to live, you have to learn new teammates, and then right away, we went on a nine-hour bus ride,” Smith said. On the field, “Double-A is where you start to face some veteran pitchers, guys who can pick up weaknesses pretty fast.”
The biggest difference? “The pitchers here will not give in on hitter’s counts,” Smith said. “A 3-1 pitch, 3-2, they’re not going to lay a fastball in there for you like at Single-A. You have to learn that.”
Here’s something Smith has learned: The two infielders have made significant progress on defense, just since spring training, easing one of the organization’s biggest fears about their future.
“I’ve got to give the guys at Fort Myers credit — these guys are playing great defense,” said Smith, in his fourth season as New Britain manager. “You can see how much they’ve learned and how they’re putting it into practice. They’re learning to slow the game down and make all the plays.”
Two players stand out in Smith’s memory as being unusually quick to adapt to the step up in competition: Oswaldo Arcia, who hit a home run over a tree beyond the right-field fence in one of his first games at New Britain Stadium, and Brian Dozier, who “stepped right in and started making plays.”
Headed to NYC
Sano has a big honor ahead of him: He was selected last week to represent the Twins at the Futures Game, the annual showcase for minor league talent held annually the Sunday before the All-Star Game. And Sano, who will play for the World team, will be joined by the organization’s other top-rated prospect, outfielder Byron Buxton, playing for the U.S. team.
It’s somewhat unusual for a player as young as the 19-year-old Buxton to be selected, but Major League Baseball urges its clubs to make their best players available, and the Twins obliged.
“If we thought he was too young, they would have honored that. But he’s ready to go to that type of venue,” in this case the Mets’ Citi Field in New York, Ryan said. “There are instances where we would decline [sending] a player if we didn’t think he was ready.”
The experience is valuable, and not just on the field, Ryan said. “It’s the media attention, handling the interviews, handling playing in front of 30,000 people or whatever it will be,” Ryan said. “You learn from that experience, too.”
In all, 20 Twins — including current major leaguers Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Kyle Gibson and Arcia — have taken part in the game.