Next up in this series of recapping the Minnesota Twins’ 2018 season position by position, we take a look at the first basemen.
Part 2 in an ongoing series of recapping the Minnesota Twins season by position is here, where we analyze our season at first base. If you missed part one (catchers), I encourage you to give it a read!
The team used a multitude of different players at first base this year- Joe Mauer, Logan Morrison, Tyler Austin, and Miguel Sano got the brunt of the time, but Ehire Adrianza, Chris Gimenez, Mitch Garver, and Gregorio Petit all got a bit of time there as well. We’ll key in on the first 4 names of that group, who accounted for a combined 1,372.1 innings at first base this year, compared to just 67.2 combined innings from the latter 4 names. To start off, we’ll recap the season-
Joe Mauer was always going to get significant playing time at first base this season, and Miguel Sano figured to get a bit of time here and there as well while bouncing around between first base, third base, and DH. In late February, the Twins added another name to the first base mix when they signed Logan Morrison to a 1-year, $6.5 million contract. The signing shifted expected playing time at first base slightly. Mauer and Morrison would now likely split starts at first base and DH, shifting Sano back to more of a 3B/DH role. The team was thought to have to be a bit creative to fit everyone in their lineup day to day, as Mauer and Morrison would occupy first base and DH, meaning the only place for Sano was third base. Problem there was Eduardo Escobar would also get significant playing time at third base. He could also play elsewhere in the infield, but we already had starters at shortstop and second base in Jorge Polanco and Brian Dozier. So, while the Morrison signing was exciting, as he was coming off a 38-home run season, it did create a slightly crowded infield.
It turned out not to be an issue, and not in a good way.
Morrison got off to a horrid start to the year, with his batting average not exceeding .100 until 15 games into the season. He would finish the month of April with a .145/.253/.250 triple slash along with just 2 home runs. The Minnesota Twins had little choice but to let him try to play through the slump. Perhaps the warmer weather would help wake up Morrison’s bat.
The longest stretch that Morrison’s batting average would stay above .200 for the rest of the season was just 1 week long. He simply was never able to get anything going at the plate. Mercifully, Morrison’s season would end prematurely in early August upon landing on the DL for a hip injury that would require surgery. The LoMo experiment was an incredible failure, as he ended his year slashing .186/.276/.368 with 15 home runs and a strikeout rate of over 20%.
Miguel Sano’s season didn’t go much better. He got off to a poor start right from the get-go, after a photographer accused Sano of abuse after a 2015 autograph session. Ultimately, nothing would come of the investigation by the MLB, citing “insufficient evidence to support a disciplinary determination”. Still, not at all how anybody wanted to start the year.
Author’s note- This article is not attempting to determine if the accusation against Sano was true or not, nor trying to persuade readers to believe either side. The sole purpose of the previous paragraph is to cover a notable event in Sano’s season.
Just like Morrison, Sano’s performance to start the year was disappointing. By the end of April, he was slashing .213/.289/.450 with 5 home runs and 36 strikeouts in 80 at bats. A hamstring injury would send him to the DL in the final days of April and eventually cause a stint on the DL. Upon returning in late May, he would last less than a month before continued struggles prompted the Minnesota Twins to demote Sano down to High-A where he would focus more on getting in shape than getting the bat going again.
He would return to the MLB in late July and stay there until early September when an awkward slide into 2nd resulted in him being carted off the field. There were no serious injuries on this play, but Sano would only appear in one more game for the rest of the season before being shut down, ending a very disappointing year. In his final 34 games after being called back up from the minors, Sano managed a meager .195/.294/.390 with 6 home runs and 49 strikeouts in 118 at bats. What was hoped to be a big step forward for Sano in 2018 turned out to be a huge step back, creating questions as to how big a part of the team he will be in 2019.