Miguel Sano steps into the box. He is just a huge man. The game is tied at 1 and the opposing pitcher is locked in, but Sano already has 3 hits, including a double that hit the top of the fence. The pitcher has been working him away, and Sano is taking what he is getting, driving all three hits to right-center. He really has become a good all-around hitter in this league. The pitcher deviates from the game plan for just one pitch, comes inside, and Sano absolutely launches it to the seats in left field. He just drilled his 11th home run in 30 games and raised his batting average over .350. Midway Stadium just can't contain him.
When Miguel Sano was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 he was only 16 years old. He was being pursued by more famous teams, but ultimately signed with the Minnesota Twins for just over 3 million dollars. He wasn't the giant man that he is today, but you could see the size and strength coming. He started at third base and showed that he could handle the position, but maybe not at a high level. He wasn't terrible though. Besides, his glove was not the tool that got him signed. His power looked like it could become legendary.
By 2012, he was the number one prospect in the Twins system. He was already showing that great power. In 2012, he hit A ball and kept the power going, hitting 28 home runs. There were some signs that he was not a complete prospect though. He had some strikeout issues and was making a lot of errors at third base. Some thought that he might end up in the outfield, possibly first base, and maybe even DH. However, the kind of power he had was something that could not be ignored.
2013 brought Sano to high A, where he didn't do anything to hurt his prospect standing. In 2014, Sano hit AA. He kept up that power to such a degree that he earned a surprising call-up to AAA in July. He struggled there, but it was also important to remember that he was only 21 years old, and in the Twins system, he moved about as quickly as any prospect can. By 2015, he was ready for a full year of AAA. By now, the hype machine was in full force. Twins fans had gotten used to losing over the past five years, and they were ready for something exciting.
Now 22 years old, Sano would spend a full season at AAA, before earning a September call-up late in 2015. When he stepped into the batter's box, Twins fans serenaded him with applause, clearly ready for the next big thing to take his rightful place in Twins history. As if it were scripted, Sano launched the 3rd pitch he saw into the left field bleachers. As he rounded the bases, every fan was convinced they were watching the next Twins superstar.
Struggles are very normal for young players. Sano was an early Rookie of the Year favorite in 2016. Instead, many of the issues that scouts were worried about early in his career started to surface. It became clear, early on, that he could not handle third base in the majors. He made 9 errors in April and was splitting time at 1B and DH by July. His power was still there. He finished the year with 21 home runs; definitely not a terrible for a 23 year old rookie. He also struck out 195 times and did not walk much at all. He ended with a sub .800 OPS and did not finish in the top five in Rookie of the Year voting.
2017 and 2018 were very similar seasons. Sano showed great power, but little else. By 2018, he was a DH, and he didn't hit enough to play that position. By age 26, he was in danger of being released off the 40-man roster altogether. A brief power surge at the end of 2019 kept him in the Twins plans for at least one more year. When he didn't hit as a 27 year old, he didn't survive the offseason with the Twins, being traded for a AA pitcher that threw strikes. Sano bounced around to 3 different teams over the next two years, never even showing the power that made him an elite prospect. He simply could not make contact. When you add that to his lack of any sort of defense, he was no longer a major leaguer.
Which brings us back to Midway Stadium. Baseball fans in Minnesota are finally enjoying Miguel Sano. He is killing the pitching in this independent league, and some are whispering that he might get a chance with an MLB club next Spring Training as a 32 year old. In many ways, he is a success. He has spent half of his life playing professional baseball. His prospect status helped him earn more money that he likely would have had he not played baseball. He might even get another shot in the majors. However, if you ask any Twins fan, they will more than likely call him a bust. The great hope that never materialized.
Once considered the building block that would lead the Twins back to the top of the Central Division, Miguel Sano is now rounding the bases after a monster home run. There is a giant pig statue in the background and the PA guy announces every train that passes by. While only about 10 miles from Target Field, it has to feel like a million miles from Major League Baseball. This is often a reality in the prospect world. No one really knows what the future holds. For Miguel Sano, hopefully the power that he is showing in this rundown stadium will translate in Spring Training and help him back onto a Major League roster. Regardless, the lofty expectations that were never met,
were unlikely to ever be met in the first place.
This is the first part in a 4 part series. Don't be depressed, it gets better...