Miguel Sano And The Dread Of 'What If'
Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA TodayThis dynamic is already at play for the young slugger, to some extent.
What if he hadn't torn his elbow ligament in 2014, forcing him to miss an entire season at the crux of his development? What if he'd been able to stay healthy through the second half this year?
As he faces daunting rehab from an operation to address the injury that sidelined him, the scariest question is this: What if Sano is never the same?
Even in this age of technological enlightenment, medicine remains an inexact science. Much mystery surrounds the ailment that sidelined Sano during the final weeks, but the bottom line appears to be this: he suffered damage to his shin bone that, while vaguely diagnosed as a stress reaction, turned out to be something more nefarious.
In theory, a stress reaction is less alarming than a fracture. It's the weakened precursor to a break, and the idea is that by catching it you can prevent something more serious from happening. The Twins did all the right things in this regard, giving Sano plenty of rest and treatment, but the thing just never seemed to heal.
If we're being honest, Miggy probably did himself no favors in his eagerness to get back on the field. After initially sustaining the injury when he fouled a ball into his shin during a Friday night game, Sano tried playing through it on Saturday. He had to be removed when his severe limp made it obvious to everyone in the ballpark something was wrong.
Six weeks later, he gave it another go in the final series of the regular season, desperate to help his team in a playoff push. Much like his decision to take the field a day after the injury, this one doesn't look good in retrospect.
Do I hold either against him in the least? Absolutely not. But they likely contributed to our reaching this point:
In Rod We Trust
Last Monday, Sano underwent a procedure to have a titanium rod implanted in his lower leg. Make no mistake, this is a pretty serious deal and you will rarely see the technique called upon for a stress reaction. Most often these rods are inserted to help broken bones heal properly.
He now faces a 6-to-8 week rehab window, and GM Thad Levine acknowledged that Sano might be "on a slow track at the beginning of spring training."
There's reason for optimism that this solution will finally end his series of recovery roadblocks. The greater concern, at this point, may be the 24-year-old's ability to condition and prepare properly for the upcoming season as he looks to check his rising number on the scale.
The Elephant in the Room
Like many others, I felt Jim Souhan's column hinting at Sano's weight and conditioning issues, published just days after he first hit the disabled list, struck a bad note. And I still believe that piece could've been handled a lot better, but at this point it would be stubborn to not more seriously recognize Souhan's core points, and consider how they'll factor going forward.
People within the Twins organization have long harbored concerns about Sano getting too big, too fast. These opinions have been filtered out to the public through multiple local columnists. And it's fair to be worried, especially in light of what's played out since Souhan first wrote that column.
Without question, this injury has impacted Sano's ability to get on his feet, exercise and train. He'll be dealing with that for at least a while longer after the surgery. Sure, a guy can still find ways to break a sweat with one good leg, but obviously it's pretty limiting. Anyway, the prime focus for Sano this winter will rightfully be getting that shin back to 100 percent, with conditioning now secondary.
So it's fair to wonder what kind of shape he'll be in when he arrives in camp three months from now. He surely played well above his listed weight of 260 this season. If he's in the 300 range at age 25 it's tough to see him playing a whole lot of third base. In fact, DH starts to feel imminently inevitable.
I've always felt the consternation around Sano's weight was largely misguided – he's a big kid, and it's part of what makes him great. Nitpicking his diet, or tying his physique to an ostensible lack of commitment, is dumb.
But it's not about any of that anymore. Sano's ability to bounce back from this and resume his ascending career arc as a 24-year-old All Star third baseman is now somewhat in doubt, for reasons that have nothing to do with desire.
The amazingly talented batsman will no doubt continue to be a great hitter, but his lofty potential surpasses that unextraordinary description. As one of his biggest believers – one who has been more inclined to ask "What if he keeps getting better at the plate, cuts down the strikeouts, and becomes the game's best cleanup hitter?" – a question now creeps into my mind that never really has in the past:
What if he never reaches that potential because these bad breaks keep piling up?
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