A year ago, Twins third baseman Miguel Sano learned in late January he was headed to first base. He worked there in spring (actually summer) training and a regular season shortened by a global pandemic.
This year he has that experience behind him — as well as a winter of watching videos of how Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Albert Pujols played the position.
"Sometimes you can learn by just watching someone else," Sano said on a video teleconference from spring training's second day in Fort Myers, Fla. "In this case, I did it by video. But if you get to do it in person, that helps, too.
"I watched those three, how they play first base, how they go about their business. Before last year, I had no experience at first base. I try to learn a little bit of something about those guys. Watching video helped me."
He learned first base at age 26 to make room for highly paid Josh Donaldson at third. Twins management and coaches had Sano concentrate on first base until late in the season. That's when they asked him to get some work at third just in case, when recurring calf injuries ended Donaldson's season early.
"First base is a good position," Sano said. "I prefer to play third, but it's a good opportunity that I can play first and I love to play there."
In addition to watching Mauer, Morneau and Pujols, Sano also worked at home in the Dominican Republic with his personal coach Fernando Tatis Sr., who played 11 major league seasons. Tatis' son, Fernando Jr., just signed a record 14-year, $340 million contract with San Diego.
"He was the first person who told me actually how to play first base," Sano said of the elder Tatis. "The little ins and outs, how to move around the base. He taught me how to defend specific hitters, depending on who was in the box. How they run, lefty, righty, things like that."
Royce Lewis' knee surgery, announced Wednesday, will sideline the 2017 first overall draft pick all season. But manager Rocco Baldelli and team staff will still get to see prospects such as outfielders Alex Kirilloff, Brent Rooker and Gilberto Celestino face major league competition.
"It's not something you used to see a ton of," Baldelli said. "You came in as a young player, got an at-bat and that was a really good day and you soaked everything up kind of from afar.
"That's not what we're going to see here. We're going to see all the guys on our spring training roster. … Every guy from our young guys to Nellie [40-year-old Nelson Cruz], they're all going to get out there and get plenty of at-bats and that's fun for us, too."
A fresh start
Sano called his return to spring training a "great moment" and said he feels "really, really good" after last year's truncated season, when he missed time after he tested COVID-19 positive in July before a delayed season start disrupted many big hitters' swings.
"It made it tougher for a lot of guys," Baldelli said. "It was a very disjointed situation last year. I give props to all the guys who were somehow able to go out there and really get it done. It was not really set up for guys to succeed no matter what we did. … I think a full camp is certainly going to benefit a lot of those guys."
Loaded on left side
Four-time Gold Glove winner and newly signed shortstop Andrelton Simmons wasn't in camp yet because of immigration travel issues. But the 2015 Defensive Player of the Year's arrival on the infield's left side remains anticipated.
"I'm looking forward to getting to play with him," Donaldson said. "He's an elite shortstop in our game and I'm definitely excited to play alongside him We'll be able to make some nice plays throughout the year."
• Tickets for all 14 Twins' spring training home games sold out within 30 minutes of Wednesday's public on-sale, following a season-ticket holder presale. Public sales were announced at 8 a.m. and a long line had formed at the box office before it opened at 10 a.m. Slightly more than 2,400 fans per game will be allowed at Hammond Stadium, starting Sunday against Boston.
• Cruz wore Sano's oversized uniform pants cinched above his waist on Tuesday's first day. "He asked me," Sano said. "I give it to him."
• Sano on last season's short two-game playoff appearance: "That's hard. I'm not the kind of player who likes to lose. So I came in with the mind-set to play the game, try to make the playoffs, try to win. When you make the playoffs, you want to win. You don't want to go home."