Miguel Sano has played 23 major league games at third base, nearly half of them in the past two weeks since Trevor Plouffe suffered a fractured rib. And considering the Twins figure to play another 20 to 30 games before Plouffe returns, the next few weeks shape up as a decent audition for Sano at his natural position.
“I never like any injuries, but we have a built-in replacement,” General Manager Terry Ryan said Friday. “He’s getting a nice look, a nice opportunity. Plouffe isn’t anywhere near ready to come back, so here is [Sano’s] chance to showcase a little bit of that [desire] to play third.”
The results are mixed, as can be expected for a player who hasn’t been focused full-time on the position for a full year. Sano served almost exclusively as the Twins’ designated hitter during the three months he spent in the majors as a rookie, and until returning from a hamstring injury on July 1, he had spent most of the 2016 season in right field.
Sano came rushing in for a Mike Napoli chopper Friday night and threw the ball past Joe Mauer at first base, committing his fifth error in the past seven games. That error contributed to a two-run inning for Cleveland in its 5-2 victory.
“He’s made a couple of impressive plays and he’s [missed] a couple that should have been made,” Ryan said. “He’s got that agility that’s hard to come by. He can make that slow-roller play with the best of them. He’s got a power arm, and now it’s just a [need for] more repetition and consistency, but he can become a very good third baseman.”
Ryan said he has been watching Sano closely and has become impressed with Sano’s grasp of positioning.
In Texas last week, the Twins third baseman said he enjoyed watching his fellow Dominican native Adrian Beltre man the position. “He moves all over, catches everything,” Sano said of the four-time Gold Glove winner. “He said, ‘Miguel, you can do this, too, if you work.’ ” Who has the better arm? Sano just smiled at the question.
To Ryan, that interaction is a good sign. He said: “If Sano wants to watch an accomplished third baseman, I’d get some video of Beltre, no question. You talk about a confident defender — there’s not a hop he scares off on, there’s not a throw he can’t make. He goes left and he goes right. I would hope Miguel Sano would feel he could become the type of defender like Beltre.”
Sano was one of the reasons Twins manager Paul Molitor asked his team to gather at Target Field early on Friday.
Molitor conducted an extra workout before batting practice, hoping to refresh players of their defensive responsibilities in certain situations. It’s overdue, he said, because the roster and lineups look so different now than they did this spring.
When Sano returned to third base, for instance, there wasn’t much time to make sure he is familiar with the team’s defensive signals and strategies.
“You want to feel comfortable putting different [plays] on during a game,” Molitor said. “… He’s done it a lot in our organization, but was not in those [drills] in spring training.”
• Plouffe is making progress, Ryan said, but it’s too soon to think about a timetable for a return. “It’s just a healing situation, nothing more than that,” he said.
• Byung Ho Park hit his first home run for Class AAA Rochester on Thursday, and he followed up with his first double on Friday. Park is 8-for-33 (.242) since being demoted July 1.