Miguel Sano is a 6-4, 272-pound international baseball star who played on national television against the Yankees in a playoff series last fall.
He is tired of being so anonymous.
Sano showed up for a news conference Tuesday to announce his $30 million contract extension with the Twins wearing a blingy necklace supporting a piece of jewelry containing all of the world’s remaining diamonds, formed in the shape of the word “Sano.”
It’s like a personalized license plate, only flashier.
In many ways, Sano is the same guy who told me, in his first big-league spring training, that he planned to hit .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBI and to win a Gold Glove and make the All-Star team. He is to shy what P.J. Fleck is to quiet.
In some important ways, Sano has changed, which is why the Twins rewarded him with three-year, $30 million contract. The signing of Josh Donaldson will mean Sano will make his long-anticipated shift to first base. He could play there at Target Field for a long time.
Sano worked himself into shape last winter, cut his heel, missed spring training and the first two months of the season and then slumped.
On June 27, Sano went 0-for-7 with three strikeouts in an 18-inning loss to Tampa Bay, looking helpless against fastballs high in the strike zone. His batting average fell to .195.
The public panicked, but Twins boss Derek Falvey stood outside the clubhouse that day, saying his hitting coaches, James Rowson and Rudy Hernandez, had an antidote to the whiffing flu. They began rolling a pitching machine onto the field before batting practice and having Sano face laser-fast, shoulder-high fastballs.
The next night, Sano hit two home runs at Chicago. Over the rest of the season, he would post a Hall of Fame-worthy .994 OPS with 25 homers in 262 at-bats.
Sano says he could “double” his numbers from last year, when he hit 34 home runs. He also said he would like to get back to hitting close to .300, as he often did in the minor leagues.
“He can get up to 40 homers easy, with over 100 RBI,” Hernandez said. “He can hit .280-290. I can see him being a better hitter because when he takes bad pitches, it’s going to mean a lot of walks for him.
“It’s going to be tougher for pitchers this year. He’s going to be a smarter hitter. He’s going to be one of the best offensive players in Major League Baseball.”
A baseball career can turn on a dime. Sano’s might have turned on a drill. “James and Rudy helped me a lot,” Sano said.
Fred Guerrero, the Twins’ esteemed Latin American scouting coordinator, isn’t surprised. “Rudy was in our minor leagues,” Guerrero said. “He knows what they’re made of. He’s seen them mature. Rudy has a lot of knowledge, and it’s easier to work with a guy once you know them. Rudy can get into their heads easier than anyone.”
During the winter, Sano works with hitting instructor Leo Posada, uncle of former Yankees star Jorge Posada. “He wants to be the player he was in the second half, but all year long,” said Miguel Alvarez, Sano’s agent. “Leo has made some big improvements in Miguel. You will see. There are some changes. You’re going to see them. The grip, the stance, how he positions his elbow. Little things, but they make him better.”
Sano offered his usual range of funny or ambitious pronouncements Tuesday, saying that he wants to spend his whole career with the Twins, that the $30 million is great but “I can get a lot more” in the future.
He also produced a pointed answer when asked about his motivation. “That’s simple,” he said. “In 2017, I made the All-Star Game. In 2018, they sent me to the minor leagues to lose some weight.”
That demotion led to Sano’s newfound dedication. Now that he is fit, Sano’s career arc will be determined by health and hitting mechanics, and when the former lags, Hernandez will be there with a pitching machine and a word of advice.