There was a damaged ligament and Sano underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the entire season.
Four years and one day later, the Twins were playing Day 6 of the 2018 exhibition schedule, and Sano was at third base for the split-squad team that remained home to play Tampa Bay at Hammond Stadium.
Sano had said as he faced elbow ligament surgery in 2014: “When I come back, I will be the same player.”
He was correct. He spent 66 games of 2015 with Class AA Chattanooga, delivering 15 home runs and 48 RBI. He joined the Twins in Kansas City on July 2, played in 80 of 83 games, and hit 18 home runs with 52 RBI.
This was an impressive comeback from a missed season — so much so that the Twin Cities baseball writers voted him as the team’s MVP and Rookie of the Year for his half-season of production in Minnesota.
And now, 10 weeks from his 25th birthday, Sano is in need of another comeback, and under a much brighter spotlight than when his notoriety was as one of the game’s top prospects.
Sano’s power gave him a place in the 2017 All-Star Game and Home Run Derby. Four weeks later, he fouled a ball directly off his left shin and was knocked out of the lineup until the final weekend of the season.
Eventually, there was a small rod placed in the shin to enhance reinforcement and healing. This was only part of Miguel’s issues: There was an accusation in late December that he had tried to force himself on a woman who was independently photographing a public appearance by Sano in 2015. Then earlier this month, he arrived extra-large for the start of spring training.
The rumored weigh-in of 293 pounds was about the same as at the end of the 2017 season, but the Twins — previous administration and the new one — always maintain hope to again see the Sano of 2015, the 270-pound rookie, as he was leading a Twins’ long-shot wild-card effort.
Twins third base coach Gene Glynn is one person who says he believes too much energy has been spent by the media worrying about Miguel’s weight.
We were talking about infielders in the clubhouse last week, and Sano walked by shirtless with a towel around his neck.
“That’s a big man right there,” Glynn said. “That’s a huge, powerful man. Miguel says he feels good. I don’t doubt that. Who knows what it feels like to be 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds? I sure don’t.
“He wants to play. He wants to win. You listen to him and [Jorge] Polanco talking baseball, two guys who grew up together, and they really understand the game. They are smart players.”
He paused and said: “I know he cares. And I’m always going to be in Miguel’s corner.”
Glynn was giving Sano an extra inch in height and shorting him 10 pounds in weight, but still it’s closer to the frame of a left tackle than what we expect to see in a third baseman.
So, maybe he can make 280 (and a few more) work for him, and stay healthy for the first time since 2015.
Sano spent four hours talking with Major League Baseball investigators on Tuesday. There was no police involvement, but in post-Harvey Weinstein America, there’s a possibility of a short suspension for Sano.
The fact he was in a game Wednesday — a week earlier than seemed likely when spring training opened — was the first positive sign for Sano since he fouled that ball off his shin.
Sano had two at-bats, a fly ball to left-center on the first pitch, then a fly ball to right. He had two chances in the field: one to his left that resulted in a throw in the dirt (the runner had it beat) and then the reliable Sano charge-and-throw on a slow bouncer for an out.
Bench coach Derek Shelton handled managing in the 3-1 loss and said:
“Miguel played five innings on a hot day, made a nice play and felt fine. I talked to him as he left the game and he was in good spirits.”
Not quite good enough to wait for the arrival of reporters after the game. Knowing there would be questions about the MLB interview, Miguel slipped away with all the stealth that a 6-5, 280-pound man (Glynn’s estimate) could muster.