Minnesota Twins 2016 Player Preview: Miguel Sano

What can the Minnesota Twins expect from breakout sensation Miguel Sano in 2016?

The much anticipated Miguel Sano made his debut with the Twins last year. He had been hailed as one of baseball’s top 100 prospects since 2010.

Sano is from the Dominican Republic and was a highly coveted international free agent. After a somewhat controversial and rocky signing process, Sano eventually accepted a contract with the Minnesota Twins in 2009. He rose through the minor league ranks, making waves every stop along with way with his offensive abilities.

He suffered a setback in 2014, going down to Tommy John surgery. After missing the entire season, Sano looked as if he hadn’t missed a beat upon his return in 2015.

2015 Recap:

In spite of playing roughly half the season with the Twins, Sano was one of the team’s most important pieces. His emergence was a large part of the reason why Minnesota almost grabbed a wild card.

Sano began the season in Chattanooga. By July the Twins couldn’t help but call Sano and his red hot bat up to the majors. It didn’t seem to matter that he was now facing the best pitchers in the world, he was as dangerous as he was in AA. In fact, Sano’s numbers in the majors were almost identical to the ones he posted in the Southern League: With Chattanooga he had a .274 .374 .544 line and with the Twins, .269 .385 .530.

He was slotted in mainly at DH but played a handful of games at third and a few innings at first.

Sano finished 2016 with a 2.1 bWAR and wound up third in AL rookie of the year voting.

Strengths:

– Immense power. In 2015: 18 home runs in 336 PAs (5.4 HR%) .530 SLG, .262 ISO

– Good mobility for a very large frame

– Good plate discipline: 15.8 BB% (7.7 is league average), 25.8 O-Swing % (percentage of pitches swung at that are outside the zone)

– Excellent offensive ability overall: 151 wRC+, .916 OPS, 14.8 offensive runs above average

Weaknesses:

– Strikeouts: 119 Ks in 80 games last season. 35.5 K%. (Of course, a high K rate is a reasonable trade off for huge power)

– Fielding: Sano’s fielding sample size in 2015 was minuscule but he put up -1 DRS and -6.6 Defensive runs above average. Sano fielded much more in the minors and the results weren’t pretty. He has a .901 fielding % in his minor league career at 3B and a .911 mark in 2015 with Chattanooga. Twins’ management opted to keep Trevor Plouffe at 3B for 2016 and move Sano to the outfield. One can only imagine how that experiment will go. It’s hard to conceive of him immediately becoming an average level outfielder or even a decent level one.

Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Outlook:

Baseball Reference projects Sano to post a .272 .368 .497 line. Steamer predicts .256 .345 .505 with 31 home runs, 89 RBI and a 3.3 WAR. ZiPS is less bullish projecting a .249 .337 .491 line, 26 home runs, 76 RBI and a 2.8 WAR.

Expect some dropoff from Sano’s numbers in 2015. He had an unsustainable .396 BABIP and 26.5 HR/FB. His BABIP rested around .318 in the minors (.290 in 2015 with Chattanooga), expect his BABIP to regress to that vicinity. His BABIP and HR/FB returning to earth will likely result in a lowered home run %, and lower OBP/AVG. Based on his tendencies, look for both his strikeout rate and walk rate to decrease somewhat in 2016. The projections quoted above display the expected drop off in these four statistics.

Sano will likely have his fair share of struggles in the outfield and who can blame him. Only time will tell whether his transition to right field will prove to be a distraction to his performance at the plate. However, the transition hasn’t seemed to affect him negatively so far in spring training

Sano will also be less of a surprise and less of an unknown to opposing pitchers. They’ll be modifying their plans of attack and analyzing ways to beat him. This, and overconfidence, can result in the phenomenon known as the “sophomore slump.” That’s not to say that Sano will suffer a pronounced slump in 2016 but it is a risk.

On the other hand, Sano could only just be getting started. Perhaps he blows away expectations once again.

Sano should continue to be an offensive force, albeit at a slightly diminished pace when compared to 2015. How the outfield experiment turns out remains to be seen. One thing is quite certain: Miguel Sano will be an integral piece of the puzzle for the Twins in 2016