At the time of Sano signing with the Twins, there were many questions swirling about his true age. In 2009, MLB completed an investigation into this issue but the results were inconclusive.
Because of the age issues, Sano lowered his asking price to sign and some teams were still scared away by his high price tag. The Twins were the team to pull the trigger and they gave him the second highest signing bonus in team history behind Joe Mauer’s $5.15 million bonus in 2001.
During this offseason, Albert Pujols, the best player to ever come out of the Dominican Republic, received a 10-year $240 million contract with the Angels. There are plenty of reports about teams that were questioning the age of Pujols when it came to contract negotiations. One national writer even suggested that Pujols should produce his birth certificate because of skepticism around his claim to be 31. This still didn't stop the Angels from investing in the best right-handed hitter of the current generation.
The latest age related scandal to come out of the Dominican Republic has surfaced within the last week. Roberto Hernandez Heredia, the Cleveland Indians pitcher known as Fausto Carmona, was arrested for using a false identity to play baseball in the U.S. From the perspective of the Indians, one of the biggest issues, besides Heredia having trouble getting to the US, is the three-year age difference between Carmona's birth certificate and his true age. A 28-year old pitcher with a chance to turn it around is a completely different story when compared to a 31-year old player who might have already passed his prime.
For players from the Dominican, there is plenty of pressure to find some way to lie about their age to escape the poverty they are subject to for all of their lives in their home country. According to Sports Illustrated on average, a 16-year old player brings in about $65,000 with their signing bonus. Add two years to their age and an 18-year old signs for an average of $20,000. That is a big difference in a country where the per capita income is only $8,900. A player who shows any sign of promise is going to try and "adjust" their age to put their family in a better place for the future.
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are working with their international baseball committee to find a way to solve this crisis with players from Latin America. They continue to stress with these players about the fact that the big money for any player is when they get to the major league level. A big signing bonus will look good at first but the goal should be to make it to the big league level and succeed there to get a big contract. Obviously, only a small portion of these signees are going to make it all the way to the majors so the temptation is still going to be there to change their age.
For all other players trying to fudge the numbers on their birth certificate, the case around Roberto Hernandez Heredia (a.k.a. Fausto Carmona) could be a benchmark for the consequences they have the potential to face. If the Dominican Republic imposes a harsh penalty on Heredia, other prospects might be scared away from altering their identity in the future. The United States could also make it very tough for Heredia to enter the States in the future. As ridiculous as it seems for a baseball player to be considered a terrorist, the use of an illegal identity to gain entrance to the US could be seen as an act of terrorism.
For the Twins and Sano, he was reported as a 16-year old out of the Dominican Republic when he signed in 2009. This past season he was listed as an 18-year old and the younger players on the roster of the Elizabethton Twins. His young age is a very intriguing part of his prospect status. If the Twins were suddenly to find out that Sano was three years older than originally advertised, how would this change the future of the number one prospect in the organization?
A difference of age by only a couple of years for Sano probably wouldn’t have changed the minor league level he was playing at last season. If he were older, the organization might be forced to rush him through some of the levels of the farm system. There are still some raw parts to his game and the extra time he is going to get in the minor leagues will be a positive for him. If there are any issues with Sano’s age, they shouldn’t impact the Twins until it comes to signing him to a contract extension. This won’t come for many years and not until he has proven himself at the MLB level.
In ten years, the Twins could find themselves in a variety of different situations. Sano might not ever pan out in the minor leagues and the possibility is there for him to never make it to the MLB level in a worst-case scenario. With the investment the Twins have made, there is very little chance that he will not get at least a taste of the big leagues. After a few mediocre seasons, the organization could find themselves in a similar situation to the Indians; Sano’s real age could be released and the team might have to think hard about his future. The best situation for Sano and the Twins would be if he were to follow in the footsteps of Pujols and turn into an All-Star caliber player for multiple seasons.
To fans of the Twins, it won't matter what age Sano is if he has a career anywhere close to Pujols. The more prying issue could be if he has been using a false identity to illegally enter the US. Losing a star player in the prime of his career because of visa issues would be a crushing blow to any franchise. Sano might be the best player to come through the Twins minor league system since Joe Mauer and the future of the franchise could be tied to his birth certificate.