FORT MYERS, Fla. – Miguel Sano reported to spring training Sunday, the three issues that complicate his 2018 season — health, weight and an assault investigation — seemingly reduced to two.
Sano has been given medical clearance to engage in all baseball workouts with his teammates, his surgically reinforced left shin now completely healed, though the Twins intend to lighten his schedule to prevent any new injuries.
They’d like to lighten something else, too: His “generous carriage,” as General Manager Thad Levine delicately put it last week. Sano’s conditioning understandably lags, after a winter largely spent incapacitated by the surgery.
And further clouding the third baseman’s status is an investigation by the commissioner’s office into allegations made in December of an assault on a Twin Cities photographer 29 months ago, an incident Sano has denied. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has the power to impose penalties — fines, suspensions or sensitivity training, among other options — if he finds that evidence warrants it.
But there is no public timeline for Manfred’s decision, and Sano said he has yet to be interviewed by MLB investigators.
“I haven’t heard anything. It’s still going on, the investigation right now,” Sano said Sunday. “I’m just waiting to see what happens.”
So are the Twins, but in the meantime, they have a season to prepare for, and Sano’s status figures to play a major role in their success or failure. Even during a 2017 season in which he played just 114 games, Sano hit 28 home runs as the primary cleanup hitter and led the Twins with an .859 OPS.
With that in mind, manager Paul Molitor, who met with the 24-year-old Dominican on Sunday morning, has planned a slow-and-easy approach toward his springtime workload.
“I let him know that I’m not going to be overly urgent [about getting] him into the game. We want to ease him into the drills,” Molitor said. “I know he’s been swinging and taking grounders and all that good stuff. He got behind on the conditioning this winter with the surgery, so we want to make sure we minimize his risk when we stick him out there. He’s good with that.”
Sano, who missed all but three games over the final six weeks last season because of a stress reaction in his left shin, had a rod placed inside his leg in mid-November to stabilize the bone. The Twins are confident that his leg has healed, but they worry that working him too hard too fast this spring could trigger other injuries, such as the hamstring pull he suffered in 2016.
“He’s got big hamstrings,” Molitor joked.
The manager probably won’t put Sano in the lineup for at least the first week of Grapefruit League games, which begin Friday, and perhaps not the second week, either.
“I’m kind of hoping it’s not that long,” Molitor said, “but I’m not really predetermining when that might be.”
For his part, Sano sounded eager to get on the field.
“I’m better, really better. I worked really hard,” he said.
Sano spent most of December in Twins camp, working with trainers, and returned to the Dominican last week for some last-minute drills from his hitting guru, former big leaguer Fernando Tatis.
“Fielding, hitting, running, it’s been good. … I’m going to work hard for my teammates and get ready,” Sano said.
The Twins say that will require a dedication to improving his physical condition. Sano grew heavier as the season went on last year, and the surgery prevented him from bringing his weight back down this winter.
“No way around it — he went a period of time where he was immobilized,” said Derek Falvey, Twins chief baseball officer. “It wasn’t an ideal offseason for him, clearly, from a workload or conditioning standpoint. … We’ve got to make sure to put him in a place where he can be successful, and that requires some conditioning focus.”
Sano clearly was energized by his return to camp; by the end of the day, he was good-naturedly shouting in Spanish at his teammates around the clubhouse, and hugging everyone who greeted him.
“He seems really happy to be here. He’s a guy that likes the environment,” Molitor said. “He’s been through a lot with the surgery and things that he’s had to have on his mind. I think getting out there and being able to use the thing he does best will be a little healthy.”