In this series at Twins Daily, we take a look at several young players in the Twins' organization who may be ready to contribute by next season. How will they be handled? How should they be handled? What do their ascensions mean to players already on the MLB roster?
What's the plan?
There may have been a short period of time where the clamor to see Miguel Sano promoted from Single-A looked a little silly in hindsight. After his first 13 games in Double-A following the promotion, he was hitting .150 with a .625 OPS. Nothing alarming, but perhaps a sign that it wasn't all that outrageous for the 20-year-old to have spent a few extra weeks in the Florida State League.
That didn't last long.
Less than two months later, Sano looks to be completely above the competition in Double-A. Even with the slow start, the third baseman ranks statistically as one of the finest hitters in the Eastern League, where his OPS ranks fifth among players with 150 plate appearances and his slugging percentage ranks second.
As he has rapidly adjusted and grown more comfortable, Sano's numbers in New Britain have gotten more and more ridiculous. Since those first 13 games, he has hit .294/.396/.681 with 11 homers and 34 RBI in 34 games. In his last 20 games he's at .329/.449/.712. In his most recent three-game series over the weekend, he went 6-for-13 with two homers, three doubles and seven RBI. He then added another long ball in Tuesday night's game. Just ridiculous.
At this point there seems to be little question that, even though he won't yet be 21 when the 2014 starts, Sano will be ready to play in the majors. In fact, based on his transcendence in Double-A it's getting harder and harder to to believe he's not ready right now.
The Aggressive Route
Operate under the assumption that Sano will be ready to take over third at the outset of the 2014 season. Let him play out the schedule in New Britain (the regular season ends on September 2nd) and then call him up to finish the year in Minnesota, gathering 50-75 at-bats and providing a nice attraction at Target Field in the final month of a lost season.
Presuming he doesn't prove totally overwhelmed by the challenge, Sano can enter spring training next year as the favorite to man third base, while the Twins reconfigure around him and try to return to contention with his powerful bat helping lead the way.
The Conservative Route
Here's the thing: There's really no rush to get Sano up. His performance is the only factor forcing that issue, and there are plenty of other circumstances that would dictate a slower approach.
For one, there's the guy currently occupying the hot corner for the Twins. Trevor Plouffe is having a tough season but it seems premature to give up on him. Then there's Deibinson Romero, a 26-year-old third baseman who is having a nice year at Rochester and might merit a look ahead of the young Sano.
Of course, there's also the assortment of service clock implications. By keeping Sano in the minors through most of April next season, they can add another year of team control, and by holding off until July they can keep his future arbitration price tags down. All of that should be a secondary concern, in my opinion, but it's a factor.
Letting Sano wrap up his season in New Britain, play some winter ball and open the 2014 season in Rochester would be justifiable, even looking beyond the financial aspects. He is, after all, still 20 years old, immature, inexperienced. And taking a patient approach does buy more time to make decisions on the likes of Plouffe and, to a lesser extent, Romero.
The Likely Route
My guess is that the Twins will follow more along the conservative path. I doubt we'll see Sano this September, though it wouldn't shock me if they called him up for the "Sit on the bench and take it all in" experience. It's hard for me to see Plouffe getting buried for the last month, barring injury, and adding Sano would require some 40-man roster hassle.
With all that being said, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Sano getting a legitimate shot at the Opening Day third base job next year. We've heard as much rumbled through the grapevine, and the slugger's convincing progression in Double-A only serves to fuel that fire.
Ordinarily, common sense would point to taking things slowly, because the Twins are a team in transition and Sano is still a 20-year-old kid learning how to be a professional. But this isn't an ordinary case. His talent is special, and at some point (perhaps some point very soon) it just no longer makes any sense to leave him stagnating in the minor leagues.