In a perfect Twins world, Byron Buxton would have picked up in 2018 where he left off in 2017. Miguel Sano would have been in shape and ready to resume the 2017 first-half form that made him an All-Star.
Instead, unmitigated disasters in 2018 from two of baseball’s most highly touted young players contributed to the firing of Paul Molitor.
What can a new manager do differently with Buxton and Sano to achieve better results, and what is a reasonable expectation for what those two players will produce in 2019?
First take: Michael Rand
Here I finally get to unleash my hot take that the Twins for too long have enabled Sano’s worst tendencies and confused Buxton by making a pure player overthink the game.
That wasn’t all on Molitor, but he has been the manager for the duration of both of their MLB careers. A new manager will need to push different buttons and rebuild relationships.
As for expectations: Buxton has an .874 career minor league OPS and a .672 major league OPS. He’s excelled in stretches with the Twins, but at a bare minimum Buxton needs to show consistency next year.
Sano needs to refine his approach. As a rookie in 2015, his line drive rate was 31 percent. Last year, it was almost half that at 16 percent.
Twins beat writer Phil Miller: I wonder if Paul Molitor would still be the manager if Buxton and Sano had repeated their 2017 seasons.
They combined to provide 7.7 wins above replacement last year, and minus-0.8 this season, so by that measure, the Twins probably would have at least matched the 85 wins that got them to the playoffs in 2017.
Regardless, any discussion of their lost season has to start with this: They got hurt. Buxton broke a toe, suffered migraines and strained his wrist; Sano pulled a hamstring, hurt a knee and spent the spring recovering from offseason surgery. That’s what ruined their seasons, and none of that is the manager’s fault.
That said, they weren’t very good when healthy, either. They’re two different problems, though. Buxton still just seems like a young guy learning to read pitches and trust his talent. If he stays healthy, I’m betting he’ll be fine.
Sano has gotten away from the approach that made him dangerous. He hit 32 homers in the Home Run Derby 15 months ago. He’s hit only 20 since. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
Rand: Good point about injuries, but I’d add: In the case of both players, some of staying healthy is within their control.
Buxton’s challenge will be avoiding the recklessness that has landed him on the disabled list in the past, while Sano’s conditioning is a factor in his health. It’s all part of the mantra of consistency.
Miller: The trick for the new manager will be to avoid making Sano’s weight and conditioning an us-vs.-him issue.
The Twins were extremely careful to be collaborative with Sano when they sent him to Class A, a decision that could have humiliated him. Instead, he bought in and used the time constructively.
He went home last week vowing to lose even more weight and work on his swing. It’s not easy for a manager to be deferential, but Sano’s an emotional guy, and the payoff would be huge.
Rand: I’m still worried that deference is enabling to some degree.
As it stands, not only the fate of the 2019 Twins but the fate of the Twins’ long-term future hangs in the balance. No pressure for the new manager!
Final word: Miller
Royce Lewis and Sano were teammates for two days in July. Will they ever be again? I’m saying yes, but there certainly are dissenters.
More Rand: startribune.com/RandBall
More North Score: startribune.com/NorthScore