Miguel Sano on Wednesday played in the 151st game of his young career, and most of the numbers he’s put up to this point are tantalizing.
In his first 150 games, he hit 33 home runs, collected 90 RBI and has walked an impressive 91 times. At 23, Sano is laying the foundation that could make him one of the most feared sluggers in the majors.
But there also is a feast-or-famine, sail-or-fail aspect to his game that the Twins would like him to address.
In those 150 games, Sano struck out a mind-boggling 221 times. The strikeout is not as loathed as it was years ago, but Sano has taken it to another level. His 221 strikeouts are the most of any player through that many games of their career. Bo Jackson is next with 204.
Sano is not short on confidence. He’s believes he is destined for great things. And he believes the strikeout total is a temporary problem that will improve with time.
“Everything will change,” Sano said. “I hope to become a player who can hit .300 every year and hit 40 [homers] and bring in 100 runs a year. As for the strikeouts, it’s a learning process. I hope I can keep learning and I can develop better discipline at the plate.”
The walks suggest he knows the strike zone. As he develops a greater understanding of what pitchers are trying to do, he should be able to make contact instead of connecting with air.
Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky chuckled when told of Sano’s statistics.
“I think youth plays a big factor in that,” Brunasnky said, “to where we are hoping that by gaining more experience that those numbers will start to skew the other direction.”
It’s part of the process of Sano realizing his potential. Sano struggled early in the season with fastballs at the top of the strike zone, or above it. Brunansky worked with Sano to flatten his swing to give him a better chance at those pitches.
The next step is getting Sano from being too aggressive at times. Tuesday, he struck out twice with runners in scoring position. Once was with a runner on third and one out.
“Take those free RBI. Take those free steaks,” Brunansky said, “Those are gifts. The infield is back, they are giving it to you. All you have to do is put the ball in play over on the right side. That’s where Miguel Cabrera has made his living.”
Sano did just that in the fifth inning Wednesday, hitting a grounder to the right side with two strikes for a two-run single. He also struck out three more times, breaking his bat over his knee — Bo Jackson style — after being retired on three pitches in the eighth inning with the tying runners in scoring position.
Here's the GIF of Miguel Sano breaking the bat over his knee after striking out for the third time to end the eighth pic.twitter.com/87Af7rM4nx— Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) July 28, 2016
But how much does Sano really have to cut down on his K’s? Strikeouts across baseball have increased every year since 2005 as the focus is more on walks and damage done when the ball is put in play. Look at the players with the most strikeouts through 150 games: George Springer (third), Kris Bryant (fourth), Chris Davis (fifth) and Chris Carter (seventh) are all active.
“I think 20 years ago, the 220 strikeouts in 150 games would be alarming,” Twins manager Paul Molitor said. “Today, there are a lot of people who are really good players who are striking out at incredible rates. But you look at walks and the production and the on-base percentage. I think you are willing to be a little more tolerant of the strikeouts.
“I’d be the first guy to tell you that we hope we can clean it up to some degree. Some of those strikeouts come when a ground ball would be an RBI. So he’s a young enough guy where you think those things are going to improve on both ends. Some of the negative things would go down and some of the positive things would go up.”