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Article: 2019 Twins Midseason Top Prospect List: 26-30

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Last week, we began revealing the Twins Daily Midseason Top 40 Prospects rankings with our choices for prospects 31-40 (Part 1, Part 2)....
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Why Miguel Sano's Strikeouts Are Not a Problem

Miguel Sano has played in 17 games for the Minnesota Twins in 2019. He missed the beginning of the season rehabbing from an Achilles injury, and joined the club in the middle of May. Through his first 75 plate appearances Sano has fanned 28 times while drawing nine walks. Each of those strikeouts has drawn the ire of Twins fans and stirred up a vocal minority suggesting the club deserves more. They are wrong, it doesn’t matter, and the slugger has been great.
Image courtesy of © Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Here’s the deal, Miguel Sano currently owns a .949 OPS which is the third best among Minnesota hitters. Rocco Baldelli’s club has the best OPS in baseball, and the next closest team (Houston) is over 40 points in the rear-view mirror. While Sano’s impact hasn’t been felt for a considerable amount of time this season, he’s been adding to what is already the most feared lineup in the game.

Now, let’s get into the merits of Sano based on this year alone. His 37.3% strikeout rate is down just slightly from the 2018 mark (38.5%), and up just slightly from the 2017 mark (35.8%). Essentially, he’s striking out a third of the time as he always has. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself. The other part of this equation is what takes place the other two-thirds of the time.

Right now, Miguel Sano owns a 12% walk rate for the Twins, which is the highest it’s been at any point since his 15.8% tally in 2015 as a rookie. There is some reason for concern regarding his plate discipline, however. The 31.1% chase rate and 20.1% whiff rates are both career highs. He’s generating contact just 61% of the time, and while that’s lower than his career mark, it’s right in line with what he’s done in his two best years (2015 and 2017). A silver lining here is that his 4.34 pitches per plate appearance is a career best mark. When it comes to this piece of the puzzle, the walks are an encouraging sign even if there are lots of opportunities left on the table.

That brings us to batted ball opportunities. As he was billed to do when coming through the system, the Dominican native is absolutely destroying the baseball. In a year with the ball being juiced and flying out of the park more than it ever has, a 50% hard hit rate is going to do significant damage. Across 361 players with over 70 plate appearances this season, no one has a lower soft hit rate than Sano’s 5.3%. Miguel is also not a stranger to elevating the baseball. He’s putting it on the ground just 21.1% of the time and hitting fly balls 44.7% of the time. Because of the hard-hit rate, and lift on his batted balls, 35.3% of them have left the yard (eighth best in baseball).

At the end of the day the reality is Miguel Sano is essentially the perfect version of himself. If you’re looking for him to hit for a high average and be some sort of MVP candidate, you’ve probably misunderstood his skillset all along. If you’re on board with him batting around .250, having a OBP around .330, and SLG in the upper .500’s celebrate because that’s what you’ll get. Sano isn’t a franchise cornerstone, but he’s definitely a middle-of-the-order bat that can hold his own against the best in the game.

There’s been some goofy suggestions thrown out over the course of the season. Trading Sano for peanuts, preferring the likes of Willians Astudillo, or demeaning his production because he produces outs are all foolish reasons to be down on him. Although he’s been lumped in with Byron Buxton from a timeline perspective, Sano has never been in the same boat from a 100th percentile impact expectation. At his best Buxton is a perennial MVP candidate. At his best Sano is an all-star who challenges for the yearly home run title.

At some point we need to get to a place where the head trash that strikeouts are bad is removed from our memory. In baseball the most important commodity is the out, and you get 27 of them. Striking out is no worse than any other out and given the inability to be doubled up in that scenario, it may even be better. Enjoy how much Sano is demolishing the ball, hope he can rein in the plate discipline even a bit more, and allow whatever happens in between to be the gray area providing a reminder that baseball is hard.

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108 Comments

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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 12 2019 08:25 AM

 

It is what it is. If he could just magically strike out less, he would. The good (walks/power) come with the bad (low BA driven by K%). There would be trade-offs if he became more aggressive earlier in the count, and most likely he would become a worse hitter.

Tell that to Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton, two guys that have trimmed their K rates by over 10% and seen their productivity shoot through the roof as a result (and I'm not even asking for that large of an improvement from Sano, just a mild improvement on those abysmal K and contact rates).

    • Jerr, Twins33, Danchat and 5 others like this

 

It is what it is. If he could just magically strike out less, he would. The good (walks/power) come with the bad (low BA driven by K%). There would be trade-offs if he became more aggressive earlier in the count, and most likely he would become a worse hitter.

Sano needs to be able to hit offspeed pitches in order to reach his talent level. No pitcher in the major league is going to throw a fastball in the zone to him if he cannot handle offspeed stuff.

    • Jerr likes this

I think any coaching to try to get him to change would affect his production. Leave him alone. If he starts to struggle, then start analyzing the problem.

 

 

This is not the player that was coming up through the minors and sold to the fans of the Twins. The potential that Sano has as player is now just shadow of what he could be. He may fit into this Twins line up and provide extra power to carry this team or i should say assist this team to winning. The bottem line here is that he had the talent to be so much more than that he could have been one of the elite players in the league. Now we get a player that is maybe 50% of what he could have been and if my guess is correct we will not be a Twin much longer because he is going to become expensive luxury that can be replaced by many coming up in the system. The assessment on talent potential was correct but the assessment on character makeup and individual makeup was way off. Thankfully some of the other Twins talent has exceeded first thought by everyone and now some of expected talent is getting there.I would be surprised to see Sano here by end of next season and i wonder even for this season.

    • Eris likes this

There was an article posted last week on this site asking if Sano was a fading superstar and all the comments were critical of the writing and the question because he is only 26, only has 1,700 career plate appearances, OPS over 1.000 (at the time), and is going to strikeout a ton because that is who he is.

 

The comments on this article are now mostly critical of Sano and his approach, and comparing him to guys like Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds.

 

Sano's ceiling depends entirely on his ability to reduce his K% and increase his BB%. As he gets more at bats over his career, he will hopefully see both of those ratios shift in his advantage. He will be a guy who is incredibly frustrating at times, and a guy who can carry an offense by himself at others. It is nice he has as much support up and down the lineup now so he does not have to carry the offense.

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birdwatcher
Jun 12 2019 09:27 AM

There's three things I don't accept:

 

1. That exorbitant strikeout rates aren't bad. They're bad.

 

2. That a K is no worse than any other out. It's worse.

 

3. That Sano's current K rate is what it's gonna be. Why can't he improve his contact rate and/or reduce his whiff percentage?

 

I don't know squat, but I just wonder if he can do wrist strengthening exercises or something else to reduce those failed check swings. Isn't this a massive problem for him? Anyone have thoughts?

    • Jerr, DocBauer, laloesch and 2 others like this
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drivlikejehu
Jun 12 2019 09:37 AM

 

Tell that to Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton, two guys that have trimmed their K rates by over 10% and seen their productivity shoot through the roof as a result (and I'm not even asking for that large of an improvement from Sano, just a mild improvement on those abysmal K and contact rates).

 

It's great that Rosario and Buxton made adjustments and improved as hitters. But that really has nothing at all to do with Sano. If he could magically improve, as you request, that would be nice for sure. Baseball is hard. Sano's approach means deep counts, and his power relies on swinging hard rather than focusing on contact.

 

Every player in baseball, and every person in the world for that matter, would love to just erase their weaknesses. I don't see the point in harping on it. Sano hopefully is doing his best to improve, but beyond that there's nothing anyone on here can meaningfully say about it.

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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 12 2019 09:49 AM

 

It's great that Rosario and Buxton made adjustments and improved as hitters. But that really has nothing at all to do with Sano. If he could magically improve, as you request, that would be nice for sure. Baseball is hard. Sano's approach means deep counts, and his power relies on swinging hard rather than focusing on contact.

 

Every player in baseball, and every person in the world for that matter, would love to just erase their weaknesses. I don't see the point in harping on it. Sano hopefully is doing his best to improve, but beyond that there's nothing anyone on here can meaningfully say about it.

You keep using the word "magically" as if it's impossible for a player to improve his pitch recognition and ability to lay off breaking balls.

 

A few years back, I said Eddie Rosario simply needs to lay off swinging at the worst 3-4% of pitches thrown to him and he'd be an above average player. I remember outright ridicule from some posters, saying that such a small change would barely make a dent in his numbers.

 

Well...

 

Outside Zone Swing Rate:

2016: 41.7%

2017: 37.6%

 

OPS:

2016: .716

2017: .836

 

Small changes can reap huge rewards in this game, particularly when it comes to pitch selection and contact. Better selection means more pitches seen, which forces pitchers to throw more pitches in the zone. More pitches in the zone means more and better contact. It's a waterfall effect; small changes over thousands of pitches seen add up to more hits, more walks, and higher slugging.

 

I'm not asking for Sano to "magically" become a different player, I'm saying he needs to work on a few small adjustments to become a better version of the player he is today, just as Rosario is not suddenly Joe Mauer just because he stopped swinging at pitches three feet out of the zone.

    • USAFChief, iTwins, birdwatcher and 9 others like this

1) The percentage of pitches swung at by Sano is less than Schoop, Rosario, and Buxton.

2) 31.4% of the "strikes" against Sano are foul balls.

3) The only player on the team with a higher 3-0 count percentage is Garver.

4) Sano leads the team in 2-0 count percentage and 3-1 count percentage.

5) Sano is 3rd best on the team for looking strikeout percentage.

 

The moral: Not all strikeouts are the same. Sano is consistently having good at bats and is challenging pitchers.

    • birdwatcher, Sconnie, blindeke and 2 others like this

 

Indirectly, yes. His reputation led to him getting nothing but sliders

Exactly. We see how the other team's react when Buxton gets on base as he reduces their margin for error and can force mistakes. Sano does the same at the plate. Trying to keep the ball low and away from him with runners on can turn in to low-and-too-far-away, or even a short hop. 

    • BattleYourTailOff likes this
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Don Walcott
Jun 12 2019 10:11 AM

 

I totally agree. Sano's numbers look great and he's mashing a lot of the time. But when a guy like Adams or a reliever with some strikeout ability gets up there, it seems like Sano has no chance. He struck out twice in that AB (I think he went with the check-swing on the wild pitch) and I wish he could shorten up his swing when he's down in the count 0-2 / 1-2. 

Go look at the replay on MLB.com. It wasn't even close to being a swing.

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Taildragger8791
Jun 12 2019 10:23 AM

 

1) The percentage of pitches swung at by Sano is less than Schoop, Rosario, and Buxton.

2) 31.4% of the "strikes" against Sano are foul balls.

3) The only player on the team with a higher 3-0 count percentage is Garver.

4) Sano leads the team in 2-0 count percentage and 3-1 count percentage.

5) Sano is 3rd best on the team for looking strikeout percentage.

 

The moral: Not all strikeouts are the same. Sano is consistently having good at bats and is challenging pitchers.

 

He's having as good of at bats as he can for his contact ability. The strikes/strikeouts have to come from somewhere though, which in this case means he's swinging and missing/fouling balls. Sort of agrees with the eye test.

 

I don't think of Sano as an undisciplined free swinger, I think he just has difficulty recognizing and hitting low breaking balls. That leads to a steady diet of said breaking balls which runs up the count and leads to walks and swinging Ks. I doubt a player can significantly improve their contact skills at this point in their career, but if he learns to spit on breaking balls that fall beneath the zone it'll be a significant game changer for him and the Twins.

    • Brock Beauchamp, Sconnie and jz7233 like this

Sano's a nice 'problem' for this team to have. I agree with those that would like to see improvements in approach and recognition. I think small improvements would have a big impact. We have a lineup that affords the Twins the patience to see if that can happen. My wish (dream) is that Nelson Cruz likes to talk, and Miguel can get to a place where he can listen/learn. I like watching Sano. Shows a lot of joy for the game and his team-mates, IMO.

    • LA VIkes Fan likes this

 

He's having as good of at bats as he can for his contact ability. The strikes/strikeouts have to come from somewhere though, which in this case means he's swinging and missing/fouling balls. Sort of agrees with the eye test.

 

I don't think of Sano as an undisciplined free swinger, I think he just has difficulty recognizing and hitting low breaking balls. That leads to a steady diet of said breaking balls which runs up the count and leads to walks and swinging Ks. I doubt a player can significantly improve their contact skills at this point in their career, but if he learns to spit on breaking balls that fall beneath the zone it'll be a significant game changer for him and the Twins.

 

Maybe. I haven't looked but I'm guessing his low balls in play % this year is slightly out of character and that problem will fix itself with some more at-bats. He missed spring training and a sizeable chunk of the year so far. I'm surprised he is doing as well as he is given his very late start, and I think we all are surprised (thus these conversations).

 

The likelihood of Sano turning into Logan Morrison anytime soon is pretty low, so I'm not worried about it. He will be fine, especially on this team in this year where everyone is putting in their all. Frankly I'm more concerned with how Sano will do in future years.

 

There is some deja vu with this conversation, we had these sorts of convos for a long time around Rosario.

    • Sconnie and Don Walcott like this
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Don Walcott
Jun 12 2019 10:44 AM

 

Maybe. I haven't looked but I'm guessing his low balls in play % this year is slightly out of character and that problem will fix itself with some more at-bats. He missed spring training and a sizeable chunk of the year so far. I'm surprised he is doing as well as he is given his very late start, and I think we all are surprised (thus these conversations).

 

The likelihood of Sano turning into Logan Morrison anytime soon is pretty low, so I'm not worried about it. He will be fine, especially on this team in this year where everyone is putting in their all. Frankly I'm more concerned with how Sano will do in future years.

 

There is some deja vu with this conversation, we had these sorts of convos for a long time around Rosario.

The main difference between these conversations and those about Rosario is that there are always people who want to attack Sano's character, and this gives them a forum to do so -- even when he's raking.

    • BattleYourTailOff likes this
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Brock Beauchamp
Jun 12 2019 10:46 AM

 

He's having as good of at bats as he can for his contact ability. The strikes/strikeouts have to come from somewhere though, which in this case means he's swinging and missing/fouling balls. Sort of agrees with the eye test.

 

I don't think of Sano as an undisciplined free swinger, I think he just has difficulty recognizing and hitting low breaking balls. That leads to a steady diet of said breaking balls which runs up the count and leads to walks and swinging Ks. I doubt a player can significantly improve their contact skills at this point in their career, but if he learns to spit on breaking balls that fall beneath the zone it'll be a significant game changer for him and the Twins.

This is pretty much my opinion in a nutshell. Sano is a very good hitter but with that pitch recognition and contact ability, I suspect he's at or close to his ceiling.

 

Tweak that pitch recognition just a little and he could become something really special while still striking out a ton (just not as much as today).

    • Jerr, Twins33 and LA VIkes Fan like this

 

The main difference between these conversations and those about Rosario is that there are always people who want to attack Sano's character, and this gives them a forum to do so -- even when he's raking.

 

That's a part of it I'm sure. But whenever Rosario was brought up before, I was among a very small handful of people who spoke up for him. With these Sano discussions, it seems like more people are liking his production and placing a "but..." after it. With Rosario, people couldn't even see he was playing well until halfway through last year, which was insane....

    • Don Walcott likes this
It's not a problem until it is a problem. We've seem him K like this. We've seen him hit like this. We've also seen him struggle and go through lengthy power slumps. He'll slump again (all hitters do) and when he does he'll offer almost no value.

To say the k's aren't a problem is short sighted and not realistic.

He's got plus power. I'm not sure it's elite though. In 9 professional seasons, he's only topped 30 HR twice with 35 off A and AA pitching being his career best.
    • Jerr likes this
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Taildragger8791
Jun 12 2019 10:53 AM

 

There is some deja vu with this conversation, we had these sorts of convos for a long time around Rosario.

 

The difference there is Rosario always demonstrated an elite ability to get the bat to the ball. As he got better at pitch recognition and toned down the free-swinging he cut down the strikeouts and made more quality contact. I don't really see them as the same thing, but it does demonstrate the drastic improvement possible when a guy learns to lay off unhittable pitches. It took Rosario a while to get there because he had an elite skill to fall back on, so maybe Sano will follow a similar trajectory.

    • birdwatcher likes this
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Don Walcott
Jun 12 2019 10:55 AM

 

That's a part of it I'm sure. But whenever Rosario was brought up before, I was among a very small handful of people who spoke up for him. With these Sano discussions, it seems like more people are liking his production and placing a "but..." after it. With Rosario, people couldn't even see he was playing well until halfway through last year, which was insane....

I'm totally with you on Rosario -- and I always was.

    • Doomtints likes this
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Don Walcott
Jun 12 2019 10:59 AM

 

 

It's not a problem until it is a problem. We've seem him K like this. We've seen him hit like this. We've also seen him struggle and go through lengthy power slumps. He'll slump again (all hitters do) and when he does he'll offer almost no value.

To say the k's aren't a problem is short sighted and not realistic.

He's got plus power. I'm not sure it's elite though. In 9 professional seasons, he's only topped 30 HR twice with 35 off A and AA pitching being his career best.

His 162-game average for his career is 37 HR. This season, if he plays 100 games, he's on pace to get 33 HR.

    • Sconnie and Nine of twelve like this
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Vikingchef1968
Jun 12 2019 11:03 AM
Bottom line is that he’ll get AB’s during the season to prepare him for the playoffs... If he doesn’t improve, he should not get the AB’s if he cannot hit the ball, period. Sure, walks count as getting on base, however, with RISP and he cannot make contact, I can almost guarantee he won’t be there.

Another thing, please stop comparing his stats to his peers on the team, the man has played 17 games, so it’s not a fair comparison, good or bad.
Swinging hard for the fences on every pitch will increase the SO rate of any hitter, regardless his talent level. It's just not rocket science! As a hitter you have to adjust to the count, just as a pitcher adjusts what he throws to the count. Trying to hit a 5 run home run with no one on base simply makes the pitcher lick his chops. As for the idea that outs are all that matter? Yup, I get it. As for the idea that a SO is basically the same as a batted ball out? Hmmmmmmm. Let's see, the BABIP on a SO is .000. (Yes I know there is no BABIP during a SO) Take that versus the BABIP of the hitter in question, and my advanced statical analysis leans towards hitting the ball somewhere, somehow!! :) This is where situational hitting and RBI's actually prove their existence. If I have a guy on third and less than two outs, there is no one I would prefer at the plate more than a Sano. Of course I am speaking as an opposing pitcher. Almost 4 chances out of 10 you get a K? I'll take those odds, versus a contact hitter!
    • LA VIkes Fan likes this
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yarnivek1972
Jun 12 2019 11:05 AM
Harmon Killebrew had an OPS+ of 131 or better from 1959 through 1972, his age 23 through 36 seasons. Sano is literally the same type of “three true outcomes” type hitter.

Sano isn’t anywhere close to that good and probably never consistently will be. He was certainly touted that highly. He is a good player. Not a great one. The problem is that I suspect he and his agent think he is better than he actually is. So, I expect him to do his time with the Twins and let someone else make a Chris Davis type mistake.

Qualifying a statement w/ "SSS but..." is like saying "no offense but...". Just because you said "no offense" doesn't mean you aren't offensive. Let's see if he can sustain that OPS while maintaining a 38% K rate. I'm with Brock - he doesn't have to improve much, but improvement in K-rate is a necessity or the other variables in baseball will take their toll on his peripheral stats.  

    • Brock Beauchamp likes this

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