Can Miguel Sano adapt to first base?
The Twins addition of Josh Donaldson has been met with tons of excitement and who could blame Twins fans for being giddy adding “The Bringer of Rain” to a historic lineup. Even with the fear of new baseballs coming into play in 2020 that could suppress power numbers league-wide, Donaldson adds another feared hitter to the Bomba Squad and also improves their infield defense, which was abysmal in 2019.
One of the reasons the Twins struggled defensively was Miguel Sano‘s performance at third base. In a traditional sense, Sano was one of the shakiest defenders at the hot corner in 2019, chucking 17 errors in just 91 games. By comparison, MLB’s leader was Boston’s Rafael Devers, who committed 22 errors, but did so in 152 games.
A dive into sabermetrics for Sano’s performance was even worse as his -6.7 UZR would have extrapolated to -19.9 over 150 games according to FanGraphs and his -5 OAA ranked 118th among qualifying infielders per Baseball Savant.
For those looking for a reason why the Twins felt adding Donaldson was a priority, this is a big reason why. But with Donaldson taking over third base and Nelson Cruz occupying the designated hitter spot, they must now find a new position for Sano.
After a 2015 experiment in right field that went miserably, the Twins are trying their luck at first base. Sano didn’t put up sterling numbers at first base last season with a pair of errors in nine games, but he doesn’t need to be John Olerud to improve the infield defense with C.J. Cron owning a -0.6 UZR over 117 games.
For reference, Sano’s UZR at first (-0.1) was slightly better but was in a way smaller sample size. In addition, his career UZR (-1.3) is actually better than Cron’s (-2.0), who was used more in a platoon role as opposed to a full-time first baseman prior to 2019.
If Sano can be OK at first, that should let Donaldson to work his magic while also taking pressure off of Jorge Polanco who was even worse defensively last season. That will make Sano’s transition a pivotal part of spring training as he tries to adapt to his new position.