CINCINNATI – Byron Buxton had his chance. And now Miguel Sano is getting his.
The Twins will call up the power-hitting prospect from Class AA Chattanooga in time to play against the first-place Royals during a four-game series in Kansas City that begins Thursday. Sano, a 22-year old third baseman, got off to a slow start for the Lookouts but heated up in May and was torrid in June to reclaim his status as one of the top offensive prospects in baseball.
Sano opened the season ranked by Baseball America as the 13th-best prospect in the game. He wasn’t even No. 1 on the Twins’ list — that went to Buxton, who batted .189 in 11 games before going on the disabled list because of an injured thumb.
The Twins need offense. Now.
The team is 11-18 since the start of June, and their designated hitter production is near the bottom of the American League. In Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Cincinnati, they were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, leaving manager Paul Molitor to lament the inability to “generate any offense.”
The Twins hope Sano can make a difference by living up to his billing as a run-producer. He’ll take the roster spot of Kennys Vargas, who was sent to Chattanooga after Wednesday’s loss.
The Twins signed Sano for $3.1 million — a club record for an international player — in 2009. He showed his prodigious power potential at every stop in the minors. In 2013, he hit .280 with 35 homers and 103 RBI between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain. But he injured his right elbow during that season and was shut down from throwing. The following spring, he felt pain during drills and ended up needing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery.
After sitting out all last season, Sano is back and healthy, batting .274 with 15 homers and 48 RBI in 66 games at Chattanooga this season. (His minor league numbers can be found here.) And after stating a goal of reaching the majors by the time he was 21, Sano is only two months off that timetable.
Sano arrives as the Twins have sputtered to a 2-4 start to a trip that concludes with four games at defending AL champion Kansas City.
There’s time for the Twins to salvage the trip, but the stakes are raised. The Twins hope that getting a shot at the leaders is what they need.
“If there’s anything that can turn this around,” third baseman Trevor Plouffe said, “it’s getting up for a series like this. I think we are ready for it.”
Molitor on Wednesday tried to craft the optimum lineup while remembering the big picture. Torii Hunter, Joe Mauer and Kurt Suzuki were on the bench at the start of the game because the manager wanted to give them a break.
Righthander Trevor May, who retired only one batter in his last start on Friday, held the Reds to two runs over 6 ⅓ innings. He pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning.
Cincinnati took a 1-0 lead in the second on Joey Votto’s sacrifice fly, then added to the lead in the fifth on a strange play. With Reds on first and second running on a 3-2 pitch, May fired home, but plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt initially said nothing on a borderline pitch.
“I wanted the pitch,” May said.
Catcher Chris Herrmann didn’t hear a call right away and fired to third to try to get Billy Hamilton. The throw was wild, and Hamilton scampered home. As it turned out, the pitch was a ball and the bases were loaded anyway. But Herrmann reacted when he didn’t hear anything initially.
“I gotta make a better throw,” Herrmann said. “It kinda cost us the game. I’m disappointed in myself.”
Brian Dozier scored on a groundout in the sixth for the Twins’ only run.
After a fast start this season, they’ve failed to drive in runs. They’ve been sloppy in the field. The bullpen has faltered.
But, somehow, they head to Kansas City confident. They will get righthander Ervin Santana back from a drug suspension on Sunday, which will be a shot in the arm to a rotation that hasn’t been shabby.
And they’ll have Sano, who could help the offense get on track.
“I think it’s, obviously, the biggest series of this year,” Dozier said. “It stinks about the two road series we’ve lost, but we have a chance to do some damage with four games against Kansas City.’’