FORT MYERS, Fla. – The winter project of Team Sano reported to Twins camp on Sunday, the cumulative effort of a nutritionist and a football trainer and a yoga instructor and a batting coach and yes, the big third baseman himself, all amalgamated into the noticeably slimmer but still intimidating chassis of Miguel Sano.
The long-rumored but now self-evident conditioning commitment made an immediate impression on his teammates, who streamed past Sano’s locker to welcome him back. But if Twins feel like celebrating Sano’s makeover — “The new Sano,” the man himself declared — be forewarned: Celebrating has already complicated this comeback story line.
“I feel great,” Sano said more than once, but Twins manager Rocco Baldelli later revealed a caveat in that affirmation. Sano might not be able to take part fully when Baldelli conducts the team’s first full-squad workout Monday, the reported fallout from a raucous celebration following his hometown winter league team’s unlikely Dominican championship, its first in 51 years. Sano suffered a cut on the back of his lower right leg, apparently during the on-field jubilation after Estrellas Orientales’ series-clinching victory over Toros del Este on Jan. 23, and he will be examined further Monday.
“It’s something we are going to keep an eye on,” Baldelli said. “Truthfully, I’m not really sure” how long the laceration might keep Sano from 100 percent participation, though the new manager didn’t sound concerned. Rather, Baldelli sounded eager to see whether the prodigious slugger has been weaponized anew by his weight loss.
Sano maintained he isn’t certain how much lighter he is, but clubhouse observers put the reduction, from his reporting weight in the 290s a year ago, at a couple dozen pounds, at least.
“We’re thrilled at what he looks like,” Baldelli said. “He worked really hard and he’s really happy and proud of the way he approached the offseason.”
Sano approached it with a squadron of support. He employed his usual batting teacher, former big leaguer Fernando Tatis, to help him refine his swing and reclaim his grasp of the strike zone. He hired his sister to serve as his nutritionist, even moved her into his house, and tasked her with limiting him to healthy foods, and in appropriate amounts. He hired a personal trainer, a football guru from Texas, who ratcheted up Sano’s normal offseason workouts.
“It’s hard because I never did football stuff. Everything is a little harder,” Sano said. “If you want to get better, that’s what it takes. I took some positive stuff and I’d go home and do these.”
Sano even tried yoga, in hopes of recovering some of the flexibility that allows him to patrol third base despite his unusual size. “I’ve been doing a lot of yoga and a lot of agility stuff and a lot of lifting. So I feel really different from last year,” an injury-pocked season that quickly spiraled into a .199 batting average, 115 strikeouts in 71 major league games and a June demotion to Class A. “I hope that this year can be really good for everyone here.”
So does Baldelli, who delivered that message in person this offseason with a visit to Sano in the Dominican Republic, a trip to personally demonstrate his support for Sano’s mind-set. “He was extremely engaged. He worked really hard and he’s really happy and proud of the way he approached the offseason,” Baldelli said. “You’re going to see this guy spent a lot of time on his body and made it a focus of his winter.”
The pair bonded over their intention to make 2019 a successful new start for the Twins and their 25-year-old slugger, Sano said.
“It was a great meeting down there” in the Dominican Republic, Sano said. “When I saw him face-to-face, I saw he’s a great person. He can help the team have a lot of [positive] mentality.”
After a quiet winter — well, as quiet as an offseason that began with a 3 a.m. incident outside a bar that left a police officer hospitalized, an episode that Sano did not address, can be — Sano tested his newfound agility by joining Estrellas for the Dominican Winter League playoffs. Sano served as designated hitter for 12 games, batting .222 (10-for-45) with one home run, two doubles, five RBI, four walks and 12 strikeouts.
He will be more than a DH once the Twins take the field. After taking a look at the lighter and hopefully nimbler Sano, Baldelli reaffirmed his commitment to Sano as his third baseman.
“One hundred percent. People like to focus on the fact that he’s a big, strong guy. The guy is an incredible athlete,” Baldelli said. “You watch him move, he doesn’t move like a guy who is 6-4 and big and strong like that. He moves like a smaller man. He’s light on his feet.”
He’s lighter all over now. The Twins hope that makes for a weightier presence in their lineup.