FORT MYERS, FLA. – The best news the Twins have received in recent memory arrived in the home clubhouse at Hammond Stadium early on Sunday morning. Around 8 a.m., Twins beat writers had started to assemble and Miguel Sano was sitting at his locker, talking in quiet fashion for brief moments with teammates and various coaches.
He was wearing a stocking hat and a light jacket, and yet just looking at Sano’s 25-year-old mug offered assurance that the Twins’ reports of an offseason commitment to conditioning had not been fiction.
Over the previous three winters, the Twins had presented excuses and made up yarns as to the workouts in which Sano was participating, alleged as they were to be taking place in either Florida, New York City or home in the Dominican.
A year ago on reporting date, he was enormous, and there was not one moment when an observer felt as if the Miguel Sano from the late summer of 2015 – the rookie Sano – would be seen in 2018, and maybe never again.
Many of us saw him becoming the closest thing the Twins have had to Harmon Killebrew as a power hitter after those first two months in 2015. By the time the Twins sent him to Class A Fort Myers last June 15 for rehab and conditioning, Sano’s strongest potential seemed to be becoming one of the memorable busts in the six decades of the Twins.
Sano did make the All-Star team in 2017, even as the flailing was getting out of hand and playing at 280 pounds was becoming more of an issue. He took a foul ball off the shin in August, and since then, his career has consisted of injury-plagued misery.
It would be a mistake to get carried away without seeing a swing in an exhibition game, but the Miguel Sano who was in the clubhouse on Sunday morning took that possibility of becoming a baseball bust seriously and has done something about it.
We saw a hint of Sano confronting reality when he came back from the minors in late July 2018 and was 20 pounds lighter than the 290-plus that he had been at the start of the season.
Trouble was, Sano still was a mess at the plate, missing fastballs above the waist, chasing breaking pitches off the plate, and repeatedly check swinging. To me, those constant checks were a true alarm – evidence the pitch recognition that was a Sano strength in August 2015 had turned into a blight on his hitting by August 2018.
His average after the return from Class AAA Rochester was .202, and then on Sept. 4, he slid into a base, was injured, and played only a game on Sept. 18 after that. He went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts and the Twins shut him down.
What Twins’ followers had seen in Sano late last season was only weight loss. There was not a better approach at the plate or renewed fitness attached to it.
On Sunday … as mentioned, Sano’s arrival was the best news in a long time. If Miguel's what he was in August 2015, with more experience and tougher to fool, then the 2019 Twins suddenly become dangerous.
The unofficial word was that Sano was 25 pounds lighter than last spring. If that means 270, Sano can play at this 270. He’s solid; looks like an athlete again.
The one Sano note for skeptics of all-things Twins was revealed by manager Rocco Baldelli in his daily post-workout interview session:
Sano has a laceration on his right heel that will be checked fully by the medical staff during Monday's physicals. It's not official, but presumably he was spiked by a teammate as Miguel's Estrellas team celebrated its Dominican playoff championship after a 4-0 victory on Jan, 23.
At first, Sano declined to answer a few media questions, and then after a discussion with communications director Dustin Morse, he did so for 10 minutes. He took the questions and answered with no interpreter. Big picture, not important, but for me, that was a quick example of a Miguel with renewed confidence in himself.
When I’ve been around in recent times, most media visits to Sano's locker caused Miguel's defenses to be raised. On Sunday, he gave some information, such as that his conditioning program included yoga.
Miguel Sano in yoga … that had to be something. He said it was tough for the first two weeks, but he now enjoys it, and the flexibility that it added.
After a few minutes, I asked him about regaining his pitch recognition – mentioned the checked swings – and he said this was a “new Miguel Sano,’’ and negatives were being left in the past.
Sano’s offseason had started with a report out of the Dominican Republic that he had bumped a cop with his car after leaving a nightclub, was arrested and brought to jail. By Oct. 8, the cop’s story had changed to him being a school buddy of Sano. Miguel was cleared, and the idea of money changing hands was only an assumption by skeptical Yankees and not a fact.
Either way, back in Minnesota, the reaction was, “It’s the same old Miguel.’’
It was a quiet winter after that, with Sano getting a visit at his home in the Dominican from Rocco Baldelli (an outstanding move by the new manager), and Sano playing for 2 ½ weeks in the D.R.’s winter league.
On Sunday, with this opening glance, the reaction again was, “It’s the same old Miguel,’’ but in this case it was an impression going back to the late summer of 2015 and not the low points that have followed.