Twins Future Position Analysis: First Base
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.
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.
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.
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