The Rise and Fall of Miguel Sano
Image courtesy of Rick Osentoski, USA TodayAt Marlins Park, no one could keep up with Aaron Judge and his inhuman display of strength. But Sano came close. He edged Mike Moustakas and Gary Sanchez before facing off against Judge in the final round of the Derby, ultimately coming up a little short.
The view from Minnesota was blindingly bright. As Sano leisurely slugged baseballs far beyond Miami's outfield walls, he grinned and reveled in the moment, looking as natural in the spotlight as he always had. Having carried into the All-Star break 21 homers and a .906 OPS, there he was, alongside Judge, two young stars of the game basking in their glory.
The best part? It seemed as though we were only scratching the surface. Sano was a year younger than Judge – still just a 24-year-old gaining comfort and familiarity with major-league pitching.
The sky was the limit. But instead, the sky has fallen.
Sano's collapse has spanned three dimensions: his performance, his physical condition, and his attitude. While it's tough to know exactly how to weigh each individually, it seems clear that all three are problematic, which helps explains the organization's drastic reparative measure.
Since the 2017 All-Star break, Sano has batted .206 and slugged .416, striking out at a 40% rate while watching his once-pristine walk rate drop to an utterly mediocre 7.9%. The power is still there, and occasionally evident when he manages to guess right and get a hold of one, but his approach at the plate has completely unraveled.
Before his demotion, Sano was an immensely easy assignment for opposing pitchers, who were by then executing the "get ahead and spin it outside" formula so consistently it brought about deja vu. Defensive metrics rated his glove as terrible. He lumbered around the bases sluggishly.
Overall, he was a sub-replacement level player.
Sano's weight has been a subject of public scrutiny since at least March 2016, when Patrick Reusse called him out in the Star Tribune.
"He is heavier this spring than last," Reusse wrote. "He is at 270-plus when the Twins were hoping to have him at 260-minus as they go forward with the plan to play him in right field."
Oh yeah, that plan. That great, brilliantly conceived plan.
Anyway, by the end of 2017, Sano's weight had reportedly risen to 290-plus, and he was in the same range this spring.
Many factors have contributed to his burgeoning bulk – diet, downtime recovering from injuries, and natural genetics all likely play a role – but there's no denying the trend. Sano's size has unquestionably affected his play, and has very likely affected his ability to stay on the field.
It's not unheard of for a player to miss six weeks due to a stress reaction (as Sano did late last year), or a month due to a hamstring injury of mysterious origin (as Sano did early this year). But for both to happen in such quick succession, for a player whose physical conditioning already had become a known issue, is conspicuous to say the least.
When the Twins sent Sano down to Fort Myers, part of their rationale - according to Derek Falvey – was this: “We can do a lot of things with the facility we have there, around strength and conditioning and the work you can do from that side.”
When Reusse took Sano to task for showing up at camp larger than expected in 2016, he wasn't just reporting. He also included some insinuations and barbs, suggesting that a lack of commitment and maturity on the slugger's end were partially to blame.
Fellow Strib columnist Jim Souhan followed suit in a similarly toned piece last August, asserting that a hefty Sano needed to show some dietary discipline.
I'm not the only one who found these digs irksome. Never did I doubt the veracity of the reporting, in that Reusse and Souhan were relaying actual concerns that existed within the organization, but was it necessary reporting? Internal rumblings about perceived character weaknesses in the past have eventually led to some unfortunate narratives and very bad personnel decisions. It all felt very gossipy.
Unfortunately, no one can deny that the grievances aired through Reusse and Souhan appear valid in retrospect.
Even as someone who has tried to give Sano the benefit of doubt at every turn, I can't ignore the insurmountable evidence of a man who just doesn't get it. Whether or not these should be perceived as "character issues" varies based on who you're listening to, but without question Sano's troubles are to some extent his own doing.
Anecdotes like this one from Mike Berardino speak well enough to that. At best, Sano has been aloof and passive at a time where he needs to be working diligently to regain an edge.
Hopefully the latter is now occurring in Fort Myers.
It's so strange, this state of affairs: When he was last playing for the Miracle in 2013, Sano was a rising 20-year-old superstar, posting a 1.079 OPS during a brief 56-game stint en route to Double-A. Five years later he's back there, a broken and banished oddity. On Friday night, as the surrounding Fort Myers hitters teed off for 20 hits, five homers and 14 runs around him, Sano went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts as the cleanup hitter.
It's one game, yes, but it seems to say a whole lot.
Perhaps down the line we'll look at this current juncture as the rock-bottom point in his playing career, instead of looking at the fleeting memory of that All Star weekend last summer as the high point.
- deanlambrecht, Loosey, Oldgoat_MN and 10 others like this