Minnesota Twins: Can Miguel Sano stick at first base?

The Minnesota Twins star signed a three-year extension earlier this week and with the arrival of Josh Donaldson, he seems eager to move to first base.

For the first five years of his major league career, we know that Minnesota Twins infielder Miguel Sano can crush a baseball. With 118 home runs in just 486 games, Sano is one of the most feared power hitters in the game and even though he’s prone to strikeout, his average exit velocity of 94.4 MPH (via Baseball Savant) means that when he connects, good things are going to happen.

For all the positives in Sano’s game at the plate, the same can’t be said about his ability defensively. The Twins have tried to find a home for Sano at multiple positions during his career and although he did an admirable job at third base thanks to a strong arm, he was still a below-average defender at the position compiling a career -8.9 UZR including a -6.7 UZR last season.

That left the Twins with a unique way to improve themselves defensively this offseason. With the team whiffing on starting pitching in free agency, the Twins decided to pivot to Josh Donaldson, who was third among third basemen in MLB in Statcast’s outs above average metric last season. As an added incentive, the Twins added another power bat to their lineup, but it left questions as to where Sano was going to play in 2020.

The latest answer to “Where in the world is Miguel Sano?” is at first base where the Twins will hope he’ll finally have a seamless transition to not only keep his bat in the lineup and improve the Twins infield defense.

In theory, the move should pay dividends for Sano as a defender. As opposed to the disaster that was the right field experiment in 2016, Sano seems to be more comfortable at first base, compiling a -1.3 UZR in 31 career games at first base. Although that has come with six errors, it also represents a small sample size for a player who primarily worked out on the left side of the infield since signing as a teenager.

If effort is any indication of future success, the good news is that Sano is showing plenty of it this offseason. Sano has spent his offseason workouts spending time at both first and third base and did the same training last year. You might be able to question whether that training paid off with Sano’s 17 errors at the hot corner in 2019 (second behind Boston’s Rafael Devers, who had 22), but it’s not the blind effort that Sano gave his switch to the outfield.

In addition, Sano seems eager to get going at first base and according to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, even sent a recruitment video to Donaldson stating he was the only addition he would move across the diamond for.

That pitch (along with $92 million) brought Donaldson to Minnesota and now Sano has to live up to his end of the bargain. In his press conference, Sano declared he could win a gold glove at either first or third base, but that’s not going to be necessary to replace C.J. Cron, whose career UZR at first base (-2.0) was almost comparable to Sano’s.

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Next: Twins finalize three-year deal with Miguel Sano

If Sano can be a competent fielder at first base, the Twins should reap the benefits of an infield overhaul that had it’s rocky moments but came out OK at the end. If he can’t the Twins find themselves in a dilemma that could include several players (an aging Donaldson, Sano, Brent Rooker, Nelson Cruz) trying to fight for one designated hitter spot down the road.

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