I can still remember the first time I saw Miguel Sano play. The year was 2012 and my brother and I made the road trip from Minneapolis to Beloit to join our cousin and watch the Snappers, who were the Minnesota Twins low-A affiliate at the time, take on the Clinton Lumberjacks in the playoffs. That team had several future big-leaguers, including Eddie Rosario, Kennys Vargas (who somehow managed to make Sano look tiny), and Zach Jones. I remember being a bit disappointed in Eddie Rosario’s lack of plate discipline as he took wild hacks and being really impressed by Jones’ 96-mph fastball (that seemed really fast back then), but the main reason we had come was to see Miguel Sano – and he did not disappoint.
We arrived just in time to see Miguel Sano hit a double to the gap and later come in to score on a head-first slide. He would go on to hit a mammoth home run that seemed like it cleared the fence in left field by a mile (he would also go on to sign the Sano Snappers shirsey I was sporting after the game). Beloit would end up losing that series and Sano’s season would come to an end, but it was easy to dream big about what the future would behold for the young slugger.
Since that day way back in 2012 Miguel Sano has had his share of ups and downs. Sano continued to put up big numbers in the minors but missed all of 2014 after having Tommy John surgery. He earned his call-up after beginning 2015 in AA, and looked the part of a superstar by putting up a .269/.385/.530 triple slash with a 149 wRC+ in half a season with the Twins. In 2016 the Twins made the questionable decision of sticking Sano in right field to keep Trevor Plouff at third and Sano’s offense probably suffered along with his defensive woes. Sano was given the hot corner for good in 2017 and responded with a better performance (125 wRC+ compared to 107wRC+ in 2016) and even made the All-star team, but a leg injury kept Sano out for six weeks and led to offseason surgery in which a titanium rod was inserted into his shin to reinforce the bone. 2018 was a complete disaster that saw Sano sent down to Fort Meyers after hitting just .199/.281/.398 in 71 games for Minnesota.
Things appeared to turn around for Sano in the offseason as he was praised for working hard to get in shape and shed some pounds , but he suffered a cut on his heel when he slipped on metal stairs during a championship celebration in the Dominican Winter League. Because of the injury Sano missed spring training and his season didn’t begin until mid-May. Sano had an up and down first half but has really come around since, making some adjustments to his swing in late June. He hit two home runs against the Chicago White Sox on June 28th and hasn’t looked back. Prior to that game, Sano was slashing just .195/.278/.438, but in the 71 games he has appeared in since then, he has excelled to .269/.373/.617 for an OPS of .989 including 24 dingers.
Since turning a corner, Sano’s numbers are strikingly similar to another Dominican slugger on the team – Nelson Cruz. The similarities are probably not coincidental as Cruz has been instrumental in aiding Sano. The 39-year-old veteran has made himself available to Sano and the two are close. Cruz is known for his preparation and work ethic, which rightly or wrongly is something that has been questioned in Sano. Sano has definitely looked locked in at the plate, as he has been able to lay off balls in the dirt and high heat, and has been better able to catch up with fastballs. The two recently sat down with FSN’s Justin Moreau and one interesting tidbit Cruz talked about was helping Sano make some in-game adjustments that led to a massive homer in Boston.
Sano is under team control for another two seasons, but this offseason the Twins may want to consider trying to extend Sano. Sano has always had the upside of a superstar and he appears to finally be reaching his potential as he matures. He is still only 26-years-old and if he continues to hit as he has since his swing changes he could be an elite slugger. Along with his power, Sano is also great at getting on base and his batting average on balls in play is actually below his career mark this season, suggesting his numbers could further improve (.314 vs. .341 career).
There are several question marks that must also be taken into consideration with Miguel Sano. First and foremost may be his defensive home. Although Sano has shown the ability to handle third base, he is no one’s idea of a gold-glover, and it is unclear how long he can stay at third. Sano’s overall value would of course decrease as a first baseman or designated hitter, but if he continues to hit as he has this year his bat will play anywhere. Sano has also had his share of injuries, only topping 100 games played for the third time this season and never playing more than 116 games in a year. He has had some off the field issues in the past and his work ethic has been brought into question. Again, he has appeared to mature and was touted by the organization for his offseason work coming into this season, so hopefully that trend will continue (plus Minnesota is certain to pick up Cruz’s team option, giving Sano another year under the veteran’s tutelage).
It is unknown whether the Twins or Sano are interested in an extension at this point. Sano may want to bet on himself, and his value would surely rise if he puts up a full season similar to the numbers he has put up of late (if he played a full season at his post June 27th rate, he would hit 55 home runs!). On the other hand the Twins may be content with just two more years of a burly, somewhat injury-prone and defensively-limited player. Power hitting DH/1B types are not the hot commodity that they once were and can be had on the free agent market for relatively cheap, as was evident in the team-friendly deal the Twins struck with Cruz.
However, if Sano does reach his full potential, he could become one of the best hitters in baseball and that would be nice to have around for the next four or five years. While Sano’s defensive value will likely continue to decline, his offensive chops should age well. As we’ve seen with Cruz, power tends to age well, and although Sano will always be a high-strikeout hitter his ability to take walks should be something that he can maintain. He could also conveniently slide into the DH position in 2021 when Cruz is likely to move on or retire. If the Twins are looking to extend Sano, this offseason may well be their last opportunity.
It’s unclear exactly what a Sano extension might look like, but he will definitely require more than Jorge Polanco ($5 million AAV) or Max Kepler ($7 million AAV) received in their extensions last offseason, due to Sano’s proximity to free agency. Sano made $2.65 million this season in his first year of arbitration and he should get a decent raise based on his numbers. Minnesota may also prioritize or consider extending some of the other young talent that is part of the Twins core, including Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. Additionally, the Twins have plenty of high-upside bats in the farm system that are getting closer to the big leagues, including Alex Kirilloff, Trevor Larnach, Royce Lewis, and Brent Rooker, so they may not want to lock down too many spots long-term. However, as a mid-market team, extending young talent is probably one of the most effective and efficient ways for Minnesota to spend its money, and as we’ve seen with Polanco and Kepler, it is something the Twins front office is open to.
So what should the Twins do? Should they stand pat and ride out the final two years of team control or attempt to extend Sano? What kind of money and years would Sano be looking for and what would the Twins be willing to pay?
This story originally appeared at Twins Daily and was re-shared as part of a collaboration between Bring Me The News and Twins Daily.