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Twins Future Position Analysis: First Base

Miguel Sano got his first full-time taste of first base last season albeit in a shortened campaign. Sano is under contract for the next two seasons with a team option for 2023. The team also has other first base options getting closer to Target Field including some of the team’s top prospects. When it all gets put together, what does that mean for the future of first base in Minnesota?
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports (Sano), © Jeff Curry, USA TODAY Sports (Rooker), © Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports (Kirilloff)
Current First Baseman: Miguel Sano
Last winter, the Twins locked up Miguel Sano to a three-year, $30 million contract extension that includes a $14 million team option for 2023 or a $2.75 million buyout. Sano struggled early in the 2020 season as he missed most of Summer Camp after a positive COVID-19 diagnosis. Through his first 13 games, he went 5-for-45 (.111 BA) with 23 strikeouts and a .504 OPS. He led all of baseball with 90 strikeouts, but he was able to hit double digit home runs for the sixth consecutive season.

Sano’s defensive transition had its ups and downs as one would expect. There were games where it was a little more obvious that his footwork and approach were lacking at first base, but that can certainly be expected at a position where he lacked familiarity. According to SABR’s Defensive Index, only two AL first baseman had a lower SDI total. Sano can move to DH depending on what the Twins decide with Nelson Cruz.

40-Man Options
Besides Sano, the Twins have other 40-man roster options to play first base. Two of the team’s top prospects, Alex Kirilloff and Brent Rooker, made their debuts last season. During the 2019 campaign, Kirilloff hit .283/.343/.413 with 29 extra-base hits in 94 games while playing nearly 42% of his defensive innings at first base. This came on the heels of a tremendous 2018 campaign where he posted a .970 OPS and was named MiLB’s Breakout Player of the Year. Minnesota’s front office has a lot of trust in him and he seems like a likely candidate to take over for Eddie Rosario in the outfield.

Rooker got off to a tremendous start last season before suffering a fractured forearm that ended his season. In seven games, he hit .316/.381/.579 with three extra-base hits and five RBI. Back in 2019, he made his Triple-A debut and hit .282/.399/.530 with 30 extra-base hits, but he was limited to 67 games while dealing with a wrist injury and a groin injury. Rooker should be ready for season’s start and there are multiple roles he can fill on the 2021 Twins.

On the Farm Options
Outside of the options mentioned above, there are other first base options in the minor leagues including some strong prospects.
Attached Image: Twins First Base Minors.JPG
Minnesota took Gabe Snyder with their 21st round pick back in 2018 after he spent four years at Wright State. His 2019 campaign was spent entirely at Low-A where he hit .259/.338/.462 with 44 extra-base hits in 114 games. With his college experience, he has been old for each level he has played at during his professional career. Snyder turns 26 in March and the team should push him to Double-A.

In the 2020 MLB Draft, Minnesota took Aaron Sabato with the 27th overall pick after two impressive seasons at the University of North Carolina. Sabato was known as a slugger after hitting .332/.459/.698 (1.158) with 57 extra-base hits in 83 games. The jury is still out on if he will have the defensive skills to play a position in the big-leagues or if he will be limited to playing DH.

Weiss was the Twins 23rd round pick in 2018 out of Cal State-Northridge. He played at three different levels in 2019 with High-A being the highest level he reached. Weiss was also older than the competition at every stop in his professional career. Phillips is roughly a year behind Weiss as he was taken out of college in 2019. It will be interesting to see how aggressive the Twins are with these two players following the absence of a 2020 minor league season.

What do you think about the future of first base in Minnesota? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

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10 Comments

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Doctor Gast
Dec 17 2020 05:40 AM

Sano is our present & near future 1B. We have an over abundance of players through out the system plus Donaldson & Garver also discussed of those who can play there. Whenever Sano moves on from 1B, my bet is on Sabato ifhe doesn't get traded 

    • DocBauer and GNess like this

I think Weiss is out of the organization...Phillips is out too

 

Not too worried about organizational depth at 1B; it's another position where it's fairly easy for a player to move down the defensive chart to fill in, and as we've seen with guys like CJ Cron, there are usually affordable guys on the FA market if you need a transition year or two before a minor league candidate is ready to step in.

 

Sano will be fine there, especially once he gets more game experience to know when he should attack a ball and when to let one go. I think he's got the glove skills to be solid at digging balls out of the dirt and there's no question he's a big target over there. Defensively he can get up to average if he keeps working at it, but his hit tool is more than good enough for it to not matter. Yes, he racks up tons of Ks but he also gets plenty of walks and HRs. I don't want an entire lineup of boom/bust guys like Sano but I'm happy to have Sano.

 

Kirilloff or Rooker both look to have the capacity to fill in there, Garver has the ability to play there...we're in fine shape at 1B in the short-to-medium term. Long term...who knows. That just depends on whether guys that aren't even drafted yet pan out.

    • TopGunn#22, mikelink45, DocBauer and 4 others like this

I am still curious to see what the team saw in Sabato.The minor league backups are really weak right now, but 1B is just too easy for position switches and in addition to Kiriloff and Rooker there is Larnach.

    • Twins33, DocBauer, dbminn and 2 others like this

1st base shouldn't be a problem with or without Sano. Garver and I think Kepler even played a little there. With Kirilloff and Rooker that makes 2 more options. I wonder if Arraez would fit there with a Sano move to DH, a Polanco move to 2B, and a new shortstop or Lewis promotion? 

    • Doctor Gast likes this

Really need to discuss 1B, DH and LF together as two of their about ready top prospects (Kirilloff and Rooker) can fit into each of those slots. Sano also could play a lot of 1B and DH. That's the main reason the Twins may be sticking to a one-year offer for Cruz.

 

I feared that Sano would be terrible defensively. He was better than feared and can probably be average after getting more experience. But his bat was the big concern last year as the strikeouts went from a problem to a major liability for the Twins. I for one am willing to give him, and all hitters, a mulligan for last year. But if his K's don't go down in 2021, assuming it is more of a regular year, the Twins may need to be looking to move on. Fortunately, with Kirilloff, Larnach and Rooker, the Twins may have players to fill those three positions without going outside the organization.

 

 

    • TopGunn#22, mikelink45 and DocBauer like this

Obviously 1B is the least of the Twins concerns ..

    • Twins33 and DocBauer like this

Yes, Weiss was released I believe.

 

What about Zander Wiel?He spent the summer in St. Paul.

    • rikker49 likes this
There is nothing wrong with having a productive and even powerful bat at 1B. Duh! And there is also nothing wrong with having a quality glove at 1B as well. And if you look at 1B defensively over 30+ years, the Twins have generally had a quality 1B defensively.

Sano has work to do defensively at 1B from footwork to just not beating up his own teammates chasing a pop-up. And at times, he forgot he was no longer a 3B and tried to get to balls he needed to let go and just play his bag. These are things he will learn. For the most part, he played an adequate 1B and handled scoops the way you would hope a former SS, former 3B would handle them. He just needs to learn and understand the nuances of the position.

His bat plays at an All Star level if he just plays within himself, despite some streaky-ness. And like a lot of players, Twins and across all of baseball, I'm willing to let a lot of 2020 slide.

Let's all just admit it was a weird season with a lot of weird results. I think a clean slate for 2021 is warranted for everyone.

Depth-wise, of course, there are a multitude of options. Barring trades, there is absolutely the possibility of Sano moving to primary DH with Khirilloff playing 1B. Rooker can also fill in. And Donaldson could also fit in at 1B as part of a transition.

But there is also NO REASON why any sort of transition needs to take place NOW.

Other than roster and lineup flexibility, Sano is the 1B. AK plays the OF but can play 1B. Donaldson is the primary 3B, but can DH here and there and might transition to some 1B.

Really, nothing to see here. No issues. No problems.

Not going to lie, however, I DID NOT see Sabato as our pick in the last draft. In fact, I actually liked the potential of every other pick besides him based on projectability. And I'm not trying to demean the young man. I just didn't see him as a 1st round choice despite his bat and questionable position ability.

But, I'm reminded of Jeffers. He was a bat with questions about his ability to be a catcher. I think any questions there have already been laid to rest.

I'm trusting the FO on this one.
    • mikelink45, JLease and rdehring like this

I'd like to see a lot more of Garver at 1B.If Donaldson cannot be the everyday 3B due to calf problems, Sano should be the #1 option and Garver should get AB as a 1B.All these guys (except Donaldson) are young and they could provide the Twins with fantastic flexibility for the future.:D


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