By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Miguel Sano, Right fielder, Minnesota Twins
2015 season (Minors): 66 G, 241 AB, .274 BA, 15 HR, 48 RBI, 5 SB, .918 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 80 G, 279 AB, .269 BA, 18 HR, 52 RBI, 1 SB, .916 OPS
It’s rare that a prospect jumps from Double-A straight to the Major Leagues, but it’s almost ridiculous when a player makes the jump and puts up basically the same stats, if not better, in the big leagues. That’s exactly what Miguel Sano did last year, and entering his first full season with the Twins, Sano has his eyes at the Major League leaderboards.
A consensus Top 100 prospect when he signed out of the Dominican Republic at 17 years old, Sano has done nothing but prove the pundits right up to this point. At 19 years old, Sano hit 28 home runs with 100 RBIs in 129 games at Class A and followed that up with 35 and 103 at two levels in 2013.
Entering the ‘14 season, he was a consensus Top 10 prospect, but then a sore right elbow that spring turned into Tommy John surgery — a rarity for position players — and he missed the entire season. Fortunately, he quelled any concerns about his ability to bounce back last season, and by July he was up with the Twins for good — hitting his stride in August to the tune of nine home runs, 26 RBIs and a .278/.377/.629 slash line for the month.
Never known for his defense, Sano didn’t play much third base with the Twins, playing 69 of his 80 games at designated hitter. With the retirement of Torii Hunter and signing of Korean slugger Byung Ho Park, who projects as a DH, the Twins have decided to move Sano to right field. Hunter himself helped with the transition early this spring, and all reports are that he’s taken to it well. While a position switch can be daunting, don’t expect the move to hamper Sano at the plate.
Sano didn’t qualify for the statistical leaderboard with just 335 plate appearances, but among hitters with a minimum of 300 plate appearances, Sano ranked among the top in many categories. Sano’s .262 ISO (isolated power) ranked 14th in the big leagues just behind Nelson Cruz and Carlos Gonzalez, who combined for 84 home runs last year. His .530 slugging percentage was in the top 20, and perhaps most impressively, his 15.8 percent BB% (walk rate) was sixth in the Majors behind the likes of Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista. Unfortunately, his 35.5 K% also would have led the league.
While there is still time for him to cut down on his strikeouts, he seems destined to be one of those Three True Outcomes (walk, strikeout or home run) players, which some of the best hitters in today’s game are. It used to be that just a handful of players fit this bill, such as Adam Dunn, but now MVP frontrunners Harper and Goldschmidt are in this group, among other promising young hitters.
Strikeouts are up in general in the league, and if he can continue to show enough plate discipline and power to put up those kind of numbers in just 80 games while only learning the big leagues, there’s no telling where his ceiling is. Fangraphs’ conservative Steamer projections have him with the ninth most home runs in the league (31). Sano is ready to become a superstar already in his age-23 season in 2016.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.