The Twins’ cleanup hitter Tuesday night was a 22-year-old with fewer than 500 at-bats above Class A who missed all of last season because of an injury.
On his first swing in his new batting spot, the kid launched a long foul fly ball to left. He took the next pitch for a ball, then smacked its successor on a line into the left-field stands for his first big-league home run.
That swing produced the best result of his six big-league games, yet it didn’t represent one of his 10 best big-league at-bats.
Miguel Sano is putting the “pro” in prodigy.
Baseball is the rare sport in which standing still and doing nothing is a primary skill. Sano’s ability to take borderline pitches has been the key to his six-game hitting streak, and will be the key to his continued success.
“Great plate presence for a young guy, lots of power, can do damage, has taken big walks for us in the late innings,” Torii Hunter said of Sano. “He has confidence. He knows he belongs. He even has good speed and good instincts on the bases.
“He changes the way pitchers have to approach us.”
Tuesday, Sano went 2-for-3 with a walk and three RBI. He has hits in all six of his big-league games and is batting .450. He might not take another at-bat outside the cleanup spot for the Twins until it’s time for them to start asking for another new, state-of-the-art ballpark.
Monday night, in his first game at Target Field, Sano calmed his nerves enough to draw two walks.
“I think he saw 22 pitches last night in four at-bats,” Twins closer Glen Perkins said of Sano’s performance on Monday. “In the ninth, he swung at the first pitch, a breaking pitch off the plate, then fouled off a couple of good pitches, then didn’t swing at a couple of breaking pitches just off the plate. That’s a mature at-bat.
“Watching him, you wouldn’t think he’s only got 20 or so at-bats in the big leagues. He’s quick enough that he doesn’t need to overswing, so he gets to see the ball a long time. It’s pretty clear that he was ready to come up here and hit.”
“Even if he hadn’t gotten a hit yet, you’d say his approach is very good for a guy that age,” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “I think three or four times now he’s gotten full-count breaking pitches and has taken them. We all know he can hit the ball 500 feet, but the most impressive thing is the quality of his at-bats.”
Sano has served only as a designated hitter so far. Twins manager Paul Molitor has had him practice at first base, and the Twins believe Sano is athletic enough to handle a corner outfield spot.
Sano could play third base Wednesday, testing the Twins’ long-held opinion that his athletic ability and arm strength will make him a far better fielder than a 265-pound man has any right to be.
“He has a cannon for an arm,” Twins General Manager Terry Ryan said. “He’s got one of the better arms in the game.”
Sano has made only three outs over his past three games. He barely watched his home run, before looking away and beginning his jog.
“When I hit the ball hard,” he said, “I know it’s gone.”
After his home run, Sano returned to the dugout to find his teammates ignoring him, before belatedly celebrating. After the game, Sano had the home-run ball in a sandwich baggie, ready to send to his mother in the Dominican Republic.
“He continues to impress with the way he goes about his business,” Molitor said.
Sano has shown at every professional level that he possesses power, competitive fire, speed, agility and arm strength. His promotion to the big leagues would test not his talent, but his patience and maturity.
Tuesday, he again looked like he’s ready to put the “pro” in prodigious.
“I’m telling you,” Hunter said. “He changes everything for us.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MalePatternPodcasts.com. On