TD Top Prospects: #1 Miguel Sano
A: .258/.373/.521, 28 HR, 100 RBI, 75 R, 8/11 SB
Since his days crushing baseballs in the Dominican Republic, where he attracted the attention of numerous pro scouts, everything about Miguel Sano has screamed "Superstar."
The 2011 documentary Ballplayer: Pelotero followed a 16-year-old Sano, along with another teenage Dominican prospect, as they sought to impress the right people and land big major-league guarantees. The film – which I highly recommend – provides a sometimes sobering glimpse into a world where kids are desperately trying to make a name for themselves and earn that bonus that will take care of their families.
From the perspective of a Twins fan, watching Sano in the movie is a treat.[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK] He's a smiley and charmingly cocky kid, larger than life in a culture where baseball is everything. It becomes obvious that Sano is one of the more special talents to come along in the region, on another plane entirely from the typical promising Latin prospect.
The Twins reinforced this notion when they ultimately stole him away from the Pirates – who lost their position as front-runners to sign him by engaging in shady negotiation tactics – with a massive $3.15 million signing bonus. It was less than Sano initially expected to get, but still ranked as the second-highest bonus ever for a Dominican and by far Minnesota's largest investment in the international market.
Less than four years later, that decision has become the biggest reason for optimism regarding the organization's future. Sano has taken American baseball by storm, quickly developing into one of the game's best power-hitting prospects despite the fact that he won't take his first legal drink for another 15 months.
At 6'4" and more than 230 pounds, Sano has already grown into an imposing figure of the Frank Thomas ilk and at 19 he may not be done growing. His prodigious size and unparalleled strength enable him to unleash a ferocious upper-cut swing that sends balls sailing off into the distance like Wilson in Castaway.
In a FanGraphs report on Sano written after watching Twins instructs late last year, Kiley McDaniel – who has a scouting background – stated that the third baseman's "power is an easy 80" (on a 20-80 scale) and added this:
The thing he does that sets him apart from other sluggers is he keeps his hands pretty low throughout his setup and Sano also doesn’t have a pronounced load. Most hitters have to do both things to create power and give away some contact ability, but Sano doesn’t need to and that’s why he has a chance to be the rare high-average cleanup hitter.
His balanced, quiet yet powerful swing looks a lot like the swings of players Sano could one day be: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.
Sano is the prototypical slugger, capable of punishing mistake pitches and launching highlight reel bombs in instances where it doesn't even look like he's swinging with full effort. He showed the most power in the Midwest League by a longshot last year, piling up 28 homers and 100 RBI in 129 games to lead the way in both categories by a wide margin. In addition, he took massive strides with his ability to lay off bad pitches and draw free passes, boosting his walk rate to 14.5 percent after posting a 7.8 mark at Elizabethton in 2011.
These factors, and more, have earned Sano the respect of baseball's scouting authorities. He slid up from No. 23 to No. 12 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospect listthis year and in all likelihood he'll move up from No. 18 in Baseball America's rankings when they're released later this month.
While his transcendent power display was amazing, Sano did exhibit some notable flaws in his game while taking his first stab at full-season competition. He struck out in over a quarter of his plate appearances, racking up 144 whiffs. This contributed to a ho-hum .258 batting average. His defense at third base was beyond sloppy, as he was charged with an eye-popping 42 errors for a lousy .884 fielding percentage.
It's difficult to hold the areas where Sano struggled against him, given his age. He was a teenager with 120 pro games under his belt facing players who were generally older and more experienced.
Still, these are not superficial concerns. Sano has struck out at a high rate everywhere he's played, and while there's a slim chance he sticks at third it is widely believed he'll end up moving somewhere his offense stands out a little less. Said McDaniel in the previously linked report: "His hands are okay, but his feet are just not quick enough to play third base … right field or first base look like his positional possibilities."
Unlike many of the players ranked below him on our list, Sano doesn't have an especially well rounded game. He's never going to be a burner, he's probably never going be a contact hitter and he's almost certainly never going to be a defensive asset. His off-the-charts power and emerging patience make him special, but if his weaknesses persist or worsen they could hold him back.
I'd be remiss not to mention the lingering questions about whether Sano's age is actually legitimate (a topic well covered in the aforementioned documentary) and when you see his enormous frame in person it's easy to lend validity to those concerns. If he were actually 23 rather than 19, his progression thus far would be less impressive to an extent. However, given that he's done everything in his power to disprove such rumors, it seems only cynical at this point to doubt him.
The kid is a physical freak. Let's embrace it.
The Bottom Line
It is difficult to overstate Sano's potential. The Twins have not had a hitting prospect of this caliber come along in some time, and while he's still probably multiple years away from appearing in the majors, the optimist would view that as only more time to grow, both physically and mentally. Given the growth he's already experienced in his short career, that's almost scary.