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Twins 2021 Position Analysis: First Base

miguel sano
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#1 Nick Nelson

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 09:59 PM

Finally arriving at camp unhindered by controversy or constraint, Miguel Sanó seeks to fulfill his prodigious potential as a prototypical power bat at first base. Can he finally put it all together?Projected Starter: Miguel Sanó
Likely Backup: Willians Astudillo

Depth: Brent Rooker, Mitch Garver
Prospects: Alex Kirilloff, Aaron Sabato

THE GOOD

Miguel Sanó is, by all accounts, firing up at spring camp with a fully clean slate. That's not something that could have been said about him last summer (late start due to COVID-19), or in 2019 (came to Fort Myers with heel laceration that required surgery), or in 2018 (under league investigation for assault allegations).

This year Sanó appears to be in a good place both physically and mentally, which is welcome news for him at a crux point of his career. Despite plainly having all the talent and ability in the world, Sanó will turn 28 in May and has yet to put together a complete season in the majors.

On the bright side, the closest he's come was in the last normal MLB season, 2019: Sanó joined the team late and made up for lost time by slashing .247/.346/.576 with 34 home runs and 79 RBIs in just 105 games. Extrapolate that over a full season and you're talking about 50-HR, 100+ RBI production that naturally tends to generate MVP steam.

It was a recipe that helped Justin Morneau take home the award 15 years ago with a 34-HR, 130-RBI season in which he bolstered his case with timely hitting and sharp defense at first base. These are both areas where Sanó has shown he can follow suit.

Throughout his career, Sanó has routinely risen to the occasion in run-producing opportunities. In 2019 he slugged .649 with runners on base, and last year – even amidst his overall struggles – he posted an .868 OPS with RISP, 100 points higher than his overall mark.



Defensively, 2020 was a process and learning experience for Sanó as he adapted to a new full-time position. But he took to it pretty well, with his size and athleticism shining as clear assets at first base. He visibly improved over the course of three months, and the flaws that occasionally cropped up – i.e. positioning and decision-making – seem mostly correctable.

Incidentally, when asked by reporters about examples he's following to model his defensive skills at first base, the first two names Sanó shared were Morneau and Joe Mauer – the last two Twins MVPs and both players who transitioned from another natural position (catcher). Sanó also named three-time MVP and two-time Gold Glover Albert Pujols.



Sanó has all the tools to be an elite first baseman of the traditional mold – a dominant and intimidating offensive force who is above-average with the glove. He hits the ball as hard as anyone in the major leagues, with exit velocities and barrel rates that consistently rank at the very top of the scale. His rare, generational raw power can make him a truly special player if he stays healthy and overcomes the shortcomings that have held him back from a sustained breakthrough.

THE BAD

Sanó is a huge man with a ferociously violent swing, which enables him to produce such thunderous contact when he connects. That swing also can very easily get thrown out of whack and caught up in bad habits, making Sanó extremely prone to slumps and strikeouts. We saw this issue sabotage a 2020 season that was heading in a promising direction.

Shaking off a slow start, the first baseman got on a roll in mid-August. Over an admittedly hand-picked one-month span, from August 11th through September 10th, Sanó slashed .304/.407/.641 with seven home runs and 10 doubles in 27 games, carrying the load at times for a lineup that perpetually failed to click.

From that point forward, however, it was Sanó who perpetually failed to click. In 13 games following September 10th, he hit .102/.120/.286 with an egregious 25-to-1 K/BB ratio in 50 plate appearances, looking as bad at the plate as we've ever seen him. The slump spilled over into the playoffs where he went 1-for-7 against Houston, following a 1-for-12 showing against New York in 2019.

Streakiness will always inherently be a part of Sanó's game, and you accept it when the good healthily outweighs the bad, like in 2019. But by the end of 2020 his wayward swing mechanics and contact woes felt more out of hand than ever.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You don't have to squint hard to see the true potential of Sanó coming to fruition, even after all the trials and setbacks up to this point. He's an imposing figure in the box. As authoritatively as he hits the ball, and as much as he lifts it, he'll be an absolute force so long as he can make contact with any frequency.

It's far from a given that'll happen, especially when you consider the lack of overall forward progress since Sanó debuted in the majors some six years ago. Last season he posted his highest strikeout rate and lowest walk rate as a big-leaguer. But in 2019 he really seemed to be finding his stride, and all players deserve some benefit of the doubt as far as 2020 is concerned.

Sanó has two years at most to figure things out and turn the corner as a Twin. He's under contract for $11 million this season and $9.25 million in 2022, after which Minnesota holds a $14 million team option. Alex Kirilloff seems likely to end up at first base and if he doesn't, 2020 first-rounder Aaron Sabato could be on a fast track toward the majors.

The Twins are conspicuously lacking in immediate depth at first base, so it'll be interesting to see how Rocco Baldelli handles any short-term absence from Sanó early in the season. Luis Arráez has no real experience at first base (and seems an odd fit there with his size and skill set). Jake Cave hasn't played first, nor has Ryan Jeffers.

My assumption is that Willians Astudillo or Brent Rooker – or whoever else latches onto the final bench spot – will be Sanó's day-to-day backup, with Kirilloff in line to replace him during any prolonged absence.

For a more extensive look at the long-term outlook, check out Cody Christie's future position analysis for first base.

READ OTHER 2021 POSITION ANALYSIS ARTICLES

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#2 Danchat

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Posted 02 March 2021 - 11:17 PM

It's hard to predict how Sano's season will go, but I think one thing is a given - there will be several peaks, and several valleys in his hitting.

 

As for backups, I've seen Blankenhorn has played some 1B, and with Rooker and Kiriloff potentially ending up there, we certainly have the prospect depth. Rooker should make the 26 man roster and back that spot up while occasionally playing LF.

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#3 Doctor Gast

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 05:58 AM

I'd rather see Arraez as Sano replacement at 1B. It's seems to me a position he might be more suited for and 1 more option to keep his bat in the line up.

#4 h2oface

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 06:48 AM

Any place it is suggested to put Astudillio makes me cringe, including at the plate. He should be a perfect fit in St. Paul, though. And Arraez, at 5'10", an inch taller, at first base? I hope not.

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#5 Fatbat

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:04 AM

I'd prefer to see Sano play 150+ games and the rest that are filled in shouldn't matter too much. It's his 28yr season which should be something that legends are made of.

#6 mikelink45

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:30 AM

I would love to see Sano turn the corner.His story is getting old and so is he, we have now seen him in MLB for six years.A good amount of time, he should be coming to his physical (and mental) peak years.He has 7.9 WAR in those six years which makes him more than a replacement player, but not a star.  

 

I am sorry that we have exit velocity and make such a big deal about it.Sano can hit HRs with less than maximum bat velocity and maybe control his swing better. He has 834 Ks in 539 games which for an old man like me is atrocious.  

 

He and Buxton remain the poster boys for hoped for greatness.- time to rip up the posters and take the crown. 

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#7 saviking

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 08:19 AM

 

Any place it is suggested to put Astudillio makes me cringe, including at the plate. He should be a perfect fit in St. Paul, though. And Arraez, at 5'10", an inch taller, at first base? I hope not.

 

Agree. My hope is that Krilloff and Rooker make the roster by May and there will be no room for Astudillo letting Rooker and or Krilloff back Sano up at first.


#8 MNT1996

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 08:21 AM

Give Rooker a lot of reps at 1B this spring and make him the LF starter/1B backup. I'd rather have the 6'3 Rooker at 1B than the 5'9 Astudillo. 

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#9 Original_JB

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 09:03 AM

Not that he wasn't a 'good' player, but I don't want to see Dave Kingman 2.0.


#10 Trov

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 09:44 AM

Sano will always be streak hitter.I think when he slows down and just tries to make solid contact he does big things.I think when he presses and tries to make things happen he struggles.Once he starts to struggle it just snow balls, because he just tries to power his way out of it.I wish he would watch tape of Miguel Cabrerra in his prime.  

 

He would drive the ball to right field with the best of them.When Sano is doing that he crushes.Sano loves to get arms extended, but he gets into pull happy mode and does not look to drive liners over RF wall.  

 

In terms of his defense I was surprised how well he did.He still looks like a dog chasing a shiny object when he is going after pop ups over his head, but for most part he did well.Not gold glove but not terrible like I was expecting. 

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#11 ScrapTheNickname

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 12:07 PM

I'm so disappointed in Sano. He's had two plus years in the presence of Nelson Cruz and he still swings for the moon with his eyes half closed. It's inexplicable that this is his age-28 season and he hasn't learned.

 

On the other hand, every other year for him has been at least decent.

2015 OPS .916

2017 OPS .859

2019 OPS .923.

 

So, according to my mythological math-making, he is due for a great season in 2021!

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#12 Dr. Evil

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 12:17 PM

What mikelink45 said!!
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#13 Nick Nelson

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 01:02 PM

 

I am sorry that we have exit velocity and make such a big deal about it.Sano can hit HRs with less than maximum bat velocity and maybe control his swing better. He has 834 Ks in 539 games which for an old man like me is atrocious.  

Exit velocity is an indicator -- a means to an end. I don't think it's something for a player to aspire to on its own. But let's be clear: it's very strongly correlated with elite offensive production.

2020 Avg Exit Velo Leaders:

 

1. Fernando Tatis Jr.

2. Miguel Sano

3. Christian Yelich

4. Mike Trout

5. Teoscar Hernandez

 

2019 Avg Exit Velo Leaders:

 

1. Nelson Cruz

2. Mike Trout

3. Jorge Soler

4. Christian Yelich

5. Pete Alonso

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#14 DocBauer

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 07:27 PM

As alluded to, I expect peaks and valleys when it comes to Sano's offense. I am HOPING that at 28yo, ready to go, he's ready to even out those peaks and valleys.

While I may seem overly forgiving, like to many players in the league, I put little stock in much of his 2020. What I am focused on is his 2019 once he was healthy. Yes, he was streaky still, but his numbers and projected numbers are tantalizing. Defensively, except for a few goofs that can be ironed out with coaching and more experience, I thought his defense was just fine. Better than fine. His scoops were excellent, as I expected, the arm is still there though used far less. Now, he absolutely needs to avoid rolling his teammates on foul balls, but that is also fixable.

Rooker has played 1B in the minors and college. IIRC, he also saw time at 1B last spring. Kirilloff can also figure in there. I also have no problem with Astudillo at 1B if he's on the roster.

An interesting thought, to me, is Arraez getting time there on occasion. In the past, Hocking played some there and Adrianza also adapted well as a fill in. Of course, Hocking and Adrianza may have had better overall gloves, but I think it's something that should at least be considered.
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#15 Eris

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 09:56 PM

At 37% K rate, Sano is rank 9th worst of all time. This is approaching historic levels of bad. Granted, attitudes towards strikeouts are different now compared to years past.

I am not totally up to date on hard hit rates. Does the rate include strikeouts, with a SO counting as 0 mph exit velocity.

https://www.fangraph...12-31&sort=10,d
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#16 jimbo92107

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Posted 03 March 2021 - 11:33 PM

A flashy coastal team with some high-90's minor league arms might trade a bunch of them for Sano right now. His absence would open up 1st base for younger guys with quicker feet and better averages that can still hit 'em over the fence. Rooker, Kirilloff, Larnach...

 

My problem with Sano is that he's become more a hole in the lineup than a savior with his bat. I used to joke about it, but now I wonder whatSano would do in a Red Sox uniform. He could flip his wrists and hit 40 over the Green Monster.

The door opened. A woman screamed. Someday, my mom would learn to knock.

#17 JLease

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Posted 04 March 2021 - 07:22 AM

Seems more likely that Garver will get a little time at 1B if they need to get Sano a day off right now unless Rooker makes the roster? I just don't see Arraez as being a good option there, seeing as how he's basically never played the position and is a pretty small dude. If Sano goes down for a significant period (i.e., actually hits the injured list) then you'll see Rooker/Kirilloff get in as a starter.

 

I don't see any real problems for the Twins at 1B right now. Sano is looking good there right now and is locked in to a good contract. They've got guys who can drop into the position coming up in the minors, and if something significant happens after this year and for some reason Rooker/Kirilloff isn't an option and Sano is out of the picture...finding a 1B is pretty easy while they wait for Sabato or someone else to be ready.

 

Hopefully, the Twins can minimize the bad stretches this year (return of video use might help there) for Sano and he can launch a ton of balls far into the sky.

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#18 Richard Swerdlick

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Posted 05 March 2021 - 02:51 AM

 

Any place it is suggested to put Astudillio makes me cringe, including at the plate. He should be a perfect fit in St. Paul, though. And Arraez, at 5'10", an inch taller, at first base? I hope not.

If La Tortuga ends up in St. Paul it could be interesting to see him frolic with the mascot.

 


#19 twinfan

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Posted 06 March 2021 - 10:27 AM

If he gets 500 at bats, you can expect 45 home runs and 200 strikeouts with about a .260 average. Glad to see that he does better with men on base. I didn't know that. If I were the manager and he was in a 3 game slump I would have him bunt in one situation and hit to right field in another in one game. If he could learn to hit to right field just a bit, he could become a monster. However, he is a big sucker for a 2 strike breaking ball that moves away from him so we'll continue to see big strikeout totals- which I don't mind when nobody is on base in a 1-sided game. 




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