You Just Don’t Sano, Part II
By Brad Swanson
Miguel Sano approaches a familiar situation in an unfamiliar place. Over the course of his career, he was always in the spotlight, to some extent. The magnitude of this situation is even a bit overwhelming for the usually very cool and calm Sano. Just as he is about to start, he takes a brief second to take everything in. For the man who was once a teenage top prospect, there is little that Sano cannot handle when it comes to baseball. However, very few players, even those at the top of their game, truly imagine what it will be like to give a Hall of Fame speech.
When Miguel Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, he was only 16 years old. He had already been the subject of a documentary, and he was given a 3.15 million dollar signing bonus just for the promise that he would become a superstar player. Forecasting what a 16-year-old will do when fully mature is hardly a science. That being said, it was easy to project that Sano would be star. He was powerful, even for a lanky teenager. His frame was sturdy; you could see what his body would become as a man. He looked like a “ball-player” when you watched him on those simple fields of his youth.
Sano was a shortstop when signed, but grew out of that position while still a teenager. The same frame that helped project massive power for Sano was the same frame that projected a move to third base, or possibly even farther down the defensive spectrum. This was almost unavoidable, as bigger bodies equal less agility. Shortstop is a lithe man’s game, and Sano was going to be a bruising linebacker, not a ballerina. Third base is an important position though. There were those who thought Sano would never even play a major league game at third. Some saw that same massive frame and thought, “first base, maybe even DH.” Sano disagreed. He had already moved positions once, and wasn’t planning to do so again.
This is where Sano’s makeup starts to come into play. It will be a common theme as well. Sano was always praised as a good kid, a hard worker, and someone who wanted to meet his vast potential. He was fun-loving and gregarious, when the time was right. He was all business when the games began. Once Sano was moved to third base, he resigned himself to stay at that position, regardless of how his body matured and regardless of what people predicted for him. He worked tirelessly to improve his footwork, to understand positioning better, to make sure his throws were accurate. He exploited his massive frame and showed off an arm that could throw a baseball through a brick wall. The work that he did ensured that he could play third in the majors. In fact, other than a few “days off” at DH, Sano wouldn’t play another position until his career was winding down.
While we know the fairy tale has a happy ending, that ending was written softly in pencil for a very long time. After dominating the low minors in 2011 and 2012, Sano was ready for more of a challenge in 2013. He started off in High A Fort Myers and created such havoc with his bat that the Twins couldn’t keep him from moving up to AA New Britain. Sano almost bought his ticket to Connecticut himself, as he had nothing left to prove in Fort Myers. A successful half-season in New Britain readied Sano for AAA in 2014. A strong season there earned him a September call-up with the Twins. He made his major league debut in early September 2014, in front of fans who might have been equally excited about his achievement. As if it were scripted, Sano launched the 3rd pitch he saw into the left field bleachers. As he rounded the bases, every fan was convinced they were watching the next Twins superstar.
Sano was the early favorite for the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year. 9 games into the season, he stepped on first base awkwardly and missed the next 60 games. This was the first real setback that Sano had to deal with. When he returned later that year, he hit well, but didn’t set the world on fire. In 2016, he struggled. The strikeout problem that many thought would hinder his actualization would manifest itself that season. He couldn’t show off his awesome power because he simply couldn’t hit the ball. By the time 2016 had ended, questions about Sano’s long-term future started to be whispered.
Sano made certain that those whispers wouldn’t get any louder. Still only 23 years old, Sano spent the 2016 off-season as a man possessed by the doubts about his future. He worked tirelessly to study pitchers, trying to find even the smallest edge. He worked in the cages, he worked on the fields, and he worked in the training room. Everything he did between October of 2016 and March of 2017 was focused not only on baseball, but on dominating baseball. Sano’s now legendary makeup transformed him into a hitter that was not only feared for his power, but for his remarkable discipline. Sano learned what type of hitter he was and used that data to make pitchers weak. They secretly wished they had the kind of Intel that Sano had on them.
In 2017, Sano launched 37 home runs out of various ballparks. The United States had just finished celebrating its 250th anniversary the next time Sano hit fewer than 30 home runs in a season. From 2017 to 2026, Sano hit over 400 home runs, peaking in his MVP season of 2019 when he hit a remarkable, and not since duplicated, 54 home runs. When Sano debuted in a Twins uniform, they were a joke. When Sano retired as a Twin in 2031, he had helped them double their franchise World Series titles from 2 to 4. Sano played his final two seasons primarily as a DH, but had spent the 14 previous seasons at the hot corner, not bad for a player than many felt was “too big” for an actual defensive position.
Back to the Hall of Fame podium, Sano begins to speak. If not for his Dominican accent, one would assume he had spoken English for his entire life. His aptitude is one of the many reasons why he is standing at that podium, taking his rightful place in baseball history. Sano speaks of all the days and nights that he spent, tirelessly working to perfect his craft. He speaks of his youth, his development as a person and his immense success as a Major League player. He never actually uses the word makeup, but he talks about makeup a lot. In reality, it was the combination of raw talent and makeup that made Sano the transcendent player that he became.
If you want a more bleak view of Miguel Sano’s future, try this on for size: Part I
Parts III and IV coming soon…