Over the past two seasons, the Twins have made big financial commitments to Jorge Polanco and Miguel Sano — two players who grew up in the same town in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic, and were signed by the same scout, Fred Guerrero.
Guerrero started with the Twins in 2004 as Dominican scout supervisor but now holds the title of director of Latin American scouting and U.S. integration.
He said when he first saw Sano, he was a completely different player than what we see now from the 6-4, 272-pound slugger, who just signed a three-year, $30 million deal with a club option for $14 million in the 2023 season.
"That was way back in 2007 when I heard about Miguel," Guerrero recalled. "He was about a 13-year-old kid — tall, lanky kid, athletic. He was about 160 pounds. I drove to his hometown San Pedro, and that's about an hour and a half from where I used to live in Santo Domingo. I drove there and I see this lanky kid hitting the ball like a man-child, actually.
"He was 13 and he was hitting the ball like he was 20. He was running 6.6 in the 60-yard, average arm, moving well at short. You know he's a scout's dream, actually, that is what he was."
In Sano's first full year of minor league ball at Elizabethton, Tenn., in 2011, he hit 20 homers in 66 games. The following season he advanced to Class A ball at only 18 years old and hit 28 homers in 129 games.
The following year, between Class A Fort Myers and Class AA New Britain, he hit 35 homers in 123 games.
Guerrero said that when Sano was a young teenager, he worked out for every club with an academy in the Dominican Republic.
But some teams didn't believe Sano was as young as he claimed to be, and that kept teams from signing him — a move many came to regret after the Twins gave him a $3.15 million signing bonus in 2009.
At the time it was the second-largest signing bonus for a player from the Dominican Republic.
"Sano was a very popular kid. When he was an amateur before his signing age, he was followed by all the teams," Guerrero said. "He probably visited the 30 academies here in the Dominican doing tryouts. He had a long investigation because some people didn't believe he was his age because he was so big and he was so talented that he took a little bit longer process than it normally does."
Yes, the decision to sign Sano as an international free agent was a huge move for the Twins. Last year Sano, 26, finished with career highs in home runs (34), RBI (79), runs (76), slugging percentage (.576) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (. 923) despite missing the first 42 games and hitting only .195 through June 27.
Before the Twins signed Sano they signed Polanco, who was 16 and Sano's neighbor.
"I met Sano first and then I met Polanco," Guerrero said. "They were the same age, probably two months apart. … I followed them both pretty close. We signed Polanco first and then we signed Sano."
Much like Sano, Polanco had his best season in 2019, when he hit .295 with 22 home runs, 40 doubles, 79 RBI and 107 runs scored. He played in his first All-Star Game and finished 13th in the MVP voting.
Guerrero said when he first saw Polanco as a teenager, he didn't imagine he would be playing this well by age 26.
"Polanco was a very weak 140 pounds, he developed very fast," Guerrero said. "He's athletic, but he developed faster than I thought. His ability to play the game was very good at that age and he grew up and he matured. Remember … Polanco was called up from A-ball to the big leagues. He was called back and was only there for a series and then went back to the minors, but he did develop faster than I thought."
While Polanco and Sano are now cornerstones for the franchise, Guerrero said there are some prospects from Latin America who have a chance to make an impact on the 2020 Twins.
"We have a couple of kids coming up, Wander Javier [and] Yunior Severino, both middle infielders that look pretty good," Guerrero said. "We have a guy that we just put on the roster that got traded from the Astros, Gilberto Celestino, a center fielder, and he is pretty good. The closest guy we have is probably a pitcher, Edwar Colina. He's a Venezuelan kid and he can join our bullpen anytime soon during the year."
Javier has long been one of the top prospects in the Twins farm system, but Guerrero said the shortstop has had some injury issues that seem to be over.
"There's a lot of potential there, he's only about  years old," Guerrero said. "He's lost two years due to injuries, so that has been holding him back. But you know, he's healthy, and we're hoping for a big year out of him."
Academies take over
The Twins officially opened their baseball academy in the Dominican Republic in January 2017, and Guerrero said the impact has been huge for youth baseball prospects in the country.
"So nowadays … we hold our professional players in the academy and we can hold up to 60 or 70 players at a time. If a kid is an amateur that means he is not signed yet and he can be there for 30 days and do everything all the professionals do," he said. "Professional players, they learn English, they finish high school within the organization, that's a program that has been going on for a couple years now and it has been pretty good.
"We're doing our second graduation this month, actually, at the end of the month. Last year we graduated about 10 kids and we have seven or eight this year, from high school. They keep learning English. That is every kid's dream when you're 14 or 15 in Latin America, not only in the Dominican Republic but also in Venezuela, to be in one of those academies with a tryout or as a signed player."
Guerrero said at this time of year, his main job is to not only continue to try to find prospects but also to give status reports to Twins officials about players currently on the roster.
"In the offseason my job basically is to try to find new talent to take into our organization," he said. "I take a look at our guys, our pro guys in the major leagues and the minor leagues, and I take a look at them so I can forward information to [Twins manager] Rocco Baldelli and the front office," Guerrero said.
Sid Hartman can be heard on WCCO AM-830 at 8:40 a.m. Monday and Friday, 2 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Sunday. • firstname.lastname@example.org