When Miguel Sano was 16, he auditioned in the Dominican Republic. His agent turned to a young scout representing the Cleveland Indians and predicted that Sano, already a hulking figure, would play shortstop in the big leagues.
The scout wasn’t sure about that, but he did envision Sano hitting long home runs and now, after too much drama, too many injuries and too many slumps, Sano is doing just that, and the young scout has a front-suite seat.
That scout was Derek Falvey, now the Twins’ chief baseball officer, who has spearheaded the team’s efforts to guide a slumping Sano back to the path toward stardom.
In 2017, Sano, according to Twins sources, was at least 25 pounds over his listed weight of 260. He looked sluggish and had trouble recovering from injuries.
In 2018, Sano posted a paltry OPS of .679. It was easily the worst season of his professional career.
In 2019, Sano missed the first 2 ½ months of the season after slicing the back of his heel. On June 27, he went 0-for-7 to drop his average to .195.
Since then, he has played like a star, making himself perhaps the Twins’ most important player as they enter September with a chance to win their first division title since 2010.
From June 28 through Aug. 29, Sano hit .278 with a .384 on-base percentage and .628 slugging percentage, for an MVP-like OPS of 1.012.
Now Sano is the player who asks to take early batting practice and who lies in front of Nelson Cruz’s locker, stretching hamstrings and absorbing advice.
“What he’s done the last 36 months and, really, in the last six to 10 months is remarkable,” Falvey said. “He’s taken meaningful strides in terms of his approach to the game and how he takes care of himself, and we think that will persist. He’s tapping into all of that potential now.”
Falvey was among those concerned by Sano’s approach in 2017. “He had such a good first half, he was swinging the bat well, but I think we continued to focus on how to get his body in position to sustain him over the long term,” Falvey said. “I know some people focused on his weight, but we wanted him to focus on where his strengths were. If this guy had been born in the United States, he’d be playing football on Sundays.
“So he hurt his shin and we couldn’t get him back in time for the postseason and he winds up having surgery, and at that moment in time you were definitely concerned. We tried to put resources around him to help him. The challenge was that once he had surgery he couldn’t really have time to do the things he needed to do to prepare for the 2018 season, to get his body in shape. He was playing catch-up all year.”
Then came the pivotal offseason of Sano’s career. He played winter ball and led his team to a championship while having his workouts monitored by the Twins. This winter, Falvey showed off a video of a lean Sano doing NFL-style agility drills.
Then Sano cut his foot, underwent surgery this spring, and didn’t play in a game until May 16.
“We had a very clear conversation with him, and a very clear plan last winter,” Falvey said. “Then he cuts his foot and we were like, ‘Can this guy catch a break?’ But he’s done the work and now we’re seeing the benefits.”
Sano has refined his mechanics so he can crush fastballs, and his batting eye so he can lay off tough pitches.
“He’s done a lot of work to help him recognize spin, and which pitches are going to miss the zone,” Falvey said. “What’s been noteworthy for me, the last three months, is watching him sustain that approach, to where he’s laying off 3-and-2 sliders just off the plate to take a walk.
“That’s what hitters do as they mature. He’s had Nelson Cruz in his ear, and he’s listening. And I do think there’s more growth in front of him.”