A blog with the headline “Adjustments have led to Miguel Sano’s power surge” appeared on Sept. 3, 2015, at startribune.com and was authored by Parker Hageman. It was an analysis of Sano’s impressive first two months in the major leagues. There is video that demonstrated the approach and the swing for Sano.
The Twins organization and the fan base are unlikely to ever again see that Miguel Angel Sano at the plate.
The 22-year-old Sano was carrying his hands lower, had his head in great position, was under control and quick, and there was no sign of pulling off the pitch toward the third base dugout.
Most dramatically, there are 30 pounds fewer of Miguel.
When he was 22, Sano had a chance to be the American League’s next “Miggy,” as in Cabrera. He will turn 25 next week, presumably still on the disabled list because of an injury to his left hamstring, and seeming much more likely to be the next “Panda,” as in Pablo Sandoval.
It is a phenomenal coincidence that Hageman’s instructive blog appeared online at the same moment Sano was overcome with a desire to hit more and longer home runs. He turned into baseball’s Uncle Rico — the guy from “Napoleon Dynamite” trying to get the football over “them mountains.”
The Twins called up Sano from Class AA Chattanooga to make his big-league debut on July 2, 2015. It was an outstanding comeback story: a phenomenal hitting prospect waylaid for the entire 2014 season after Tommy John surgery, and now with the Twins after 66 games in Double-A.
And the results … oh, my.
Sano was in the lineup for 51 of the Twins’ 53 games from July 2 to Sept. 2. He batted .296, scored 33 runs, drove in 42, hit 13 doubles had 15 home runs, drew 34 walks (none intentional), producing an on-base percentage of .405 and a slugging percentage of .620.
What impressed teammates and baseball people the most during those two months? Sano’s ability to read pitches, which allowed him to get into favorable counts.
And then Miguel saw them mountains.
Sano started in 27 of the 29 games from Sept. 3 to Oct. 4. He batted .220, with three home runs, 10 RBI, an on-base percentage of .350 and a slugging percentage of .370.
Most of Miguel’s duty during those three months was as a designated hitter. The Twins wrote off Sano’s poor final month as a rookie’s overamped desire to finish strong.
The real concern was based on a rumored weight gain: allegedly from 258 in midsummer to 270 at season’s end. The Twins seemed to think Miguel not playing in the field had something to do with that.
Trevor Plouffe was coming off a strong season at third base. So, the Twins came up with the brainstorm of moving Sano to right field.
Surely, he would take off a few pounds in the winter realizing he would be playing in the outfield, right?
This is Miguel. He has friends in New York, and friends in the Dominican, and there is much conviviality among them … if you believe the scouting reports from social media.
Whatever the reason, Miguel came to Fort Myers at 278 for 2016 spring training, even as he was telling reporters that he was in the low 260s.
The right field idea was absurd from the get-go. He missed all of June because of a pulled left hamstring, from running the bases. In September, he missed eight more games because of back pain.
He played 118 games, with 25 home runs and 66 RBI. He also Uncle Rico-ed his way to 178 strikeouts.
He was at third base in 2017, and there has never been a 280-pounder play it as well. He made the All-Star team and impressed in the Home Run Derby. A month later, he fouled a ball off his left shin, and didn’t play from Aug. 19 to Sept. 29.
Total, he played 116 games, with 28 home runs and 177 strikeouts. And then he underwent surgery to implant a small rod to reinforce the left shin.
Miguel checked in this spring at 293 pounds. He made it through 20 games, before the hamstring “strain” that has him back on the DL. He is batting .213, with five home runs, 14 RBI and 36 strikeouts in 80 at-bats.
A few days ago, I was in the camp demanding tough love for Sano: Send him out on rehab, and tell him he is staying in the minors until he is stopped flailing, both at home plate and the dinner plate.
Then, I had a talk with someone who knows him much better than us media types, and he said:
“Won’t work. Miguel has to feel like you believe in him, or you will lose him completely. The Twins have to encourage him, keep working with him, and hope that it clicks.
“It would be a shame if that doesn’t happen. There’s so much ability there. And Miguel loves baseball. He really does.”
As they wait for the click, Twins followers are advised not to go back and look at that blog with video of Miguel as a 22-year-old rookie. It will make you weep.