Twins Prospects Carry Hot Bats, Fiery Personalities
Following this blistering hot streak, Sano rightfully became the center of discussion in Twins Territory, but unfortunately it wasn't his play on the field that was garnering attention. Instead, it was his behavior following the last of those four homers.
After launching a majestic bomb last Tuesday, the 20-year-old stood in place for a good five seconds admiring his work, and then smugly flipped his bat before engaging in an exceedingly slow trot around the bases.
Brash. Cocky. Provocative. Frankly, they are qualities the Twins could use, even if Sano's action itself could hardly be condoned by anyone. While I think the issue is overblown, there has clearly been something amiss in a Minnesota clubhouse guided by the leadership of the quietly dominant Joe Mauer and the folksy, amiable Ron Gardenhire.
I don't like what Sano did, particularly because he's putting himself in danger by showing up opposing pitchers in that manner, but I don't mind the sentiment behind it. This is a competitive sport. It's me against you, and I'm better. I'm going to win.
Also, it sounds like there was some sour history between Sano and the pitcher, Bobby Lanigan (a former teammate in New Britain), so that adds another mitigating factor.
While this might be the most extreme example yet, Sano has a history of showboating on the field. Considering that he's one of the premier talents ever to emerge from his native country, a top three prospect in baseball, and still a kid at 20 years old, it's naive to think he won't flash an ego and play with some swagger. The Twins know that, and I don't think they're terribly bothered by it.
Pimping the home run was not, by itself, an especially worrisome act, but it's also not what resulted in an extended benching at the behest of his manager. Patrick Reusse detailed the events that took place after the game in an illuminating column:
The identity of the pitcher had much to do with the extra juice Sano put into Tuesday's home run reaction. When confronted over this by Smith, notorious in the Twins' system as a hard-nosed manager, Sano basically told Smith that he would do what he chose after hitting home runs.
General Manager Terry Ryan was watching New Britain. He talked to Sano after the game and didn't get a satisfactory response.
There is where you can't help but get a little concerned. The descriptions here are vague but this sounds like something ranging between disrespect and outright insubordination, not only toward his team's manager but toward his organization's general manager. It's a bad sign and something that the Twins are right to punish and strongly discourage, even if the length of the benching -- which lasted four games, until the third baseman returned to the lineup Sunday -- has been criticized by some.
Sano's incident adds to a growing trend of problematic attitude outbursts from key prospects in the Twins' system. On the same day as the "Pimpgate" scandal materialized, Oswaldo Arcia was removed from a game in Rochester for lack of hustle; Arcia's boisterous personality also created the occasional stir during his time in Minnesota. Stellar second base prospect Eddie Rosario was benched for a few games in Ft. Myers back in May for what was cryptically termed "his approach to the game."
In his previously linked article, Reusse observes this trend and calls out the growing need for a high-ranking Latin American coach in the organization, one who could perhaps better relate with these young men and help set them on the right path. It's a great point.
I love the passion I've seen from some of these guys. Arcia is a joy to watch, in large part because he wears his excitable emotions on his sleeve. I enjoyed hearing a story about Sano shouting into the opposing dugout that they'd better respect him when he smashed a long home run immediately after a pitch had buzzed past his head in Ft. Myers back in April.
The makeup of the Twins roster has reflected the "Minnesota Nice" stereotype all too well over the years, with a clubhouse that could best be described as vanilla. I wouldn't say there's necessarily anything wrong with that, but I also think many Twins fans would welcome an added edge, which these fiery youngsters seem to bring to the table along with considerable skill.
At the same time, it needs to be kept in check, so I have no problem with the measures taken to ensure that these prospects remain respectful and avoid long-term friction with the organization. It's important to remember that these truly are still kids, adjusting to a new culture and set of rules.
Sano returned to the New Britain lineup Sunday evening and went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks. I suspect his brief timeout will ultimately be forgotten in the narrative of this breakout season, but hopefully the lesson learned will not.