Miguel Sano was voted as the most valuable player of the Twins in 2015, even though he was with Minnesota for only half of his rookie season. The big-league meal money and designated hitter role had caused him to put on — OK, maybe a dozen pounds — so the Twins’ brain trust decided it was incumbent to find him a position.
And they then announced the shocking decision this would be right field.
Tradition holds that right field is the position where the wide, slow kid (if he can’t be a catcher) is banished, but that is supposed to end with Little League. A degree of litheness is required to the play right field in the modern majors, and any mention of “lithe” for Miguel comes with the disclaimer “for his size.’’
Sano responded to the demands that went with playing in the tricky expanse of Target Field’s right field by showing up well into the 280s for 2016 spring training.
There’s no need for a full review of that two-pronged blunder — the Twins’ thinking and Sano’s preparing — but it does bring us to this spring, when Miguel showed up in Fort Myers, Fla. to get ready for another position change:
He was moving across the infield from third base to first, not the routine transition that many claim.
Sano appeared to arrive in the best shape since he was summoned from Class AA Chattanooga and entered the Twins’ lineup on July 2, 2015. “Miguel looks great,” was among the most repeated remarks in Florida.
He played in eight exhibitions, with 28 at-bats and batting only .179, but who cared? He had embraced this position, possibly because it made sense.
And then came the pandemic shutdown in mid-March, and eventually Sano returned home to the Dominican Republic.
Drama again occurred for the greatest potential TV reality show never discovered by Andy Cohen, “Miguel in the DR,” when he was accused of being involved in a thumping given to a guy who had allegedly molested a youthful Sano relative.
No charges were filed.
The Twins didn’t return to prepare for the abbreviated 60-game schedule until early July. Judging from the distance of the press box, with no clubhouse access allowed, Miguel looked a tad larger than had been the case 3½ months earlier in Fort Myers.
Through Aug. 16, he had been in the lineup for 18 of 22 games and was batting .140 with 31 strikeouts in 57 at-bats.
The Twins were leading Kansas City in the sixth inning Aug. 17 when Sano stayed back on an Ian Kennedy pitch and drilled it to the top of right-center field wall for a double. This opposite-field launch was greeted by media commentators as if Sano discovering right field was the equivalent of Stanley finding Dr. Livingstone near Lake Tanganyika.
Over the next 22 games he was in the lineup, Sano batted .313, he had 10 walks in 90 plate appearances and was the leading force in the Twins lineup. This stretch included well-hit balls to right field.
Was Miguel learning that he doesn’t have to jump out and yank the ball 450 to left to get his homers — that he’s so strong he can take the ball where it was pitched, getting the same result on the scoreboard if not in distance?
Sano had two hits, including a home run, and drove in three runs in a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 8. Miguel was batting .241 with 10 home runs, 21 RBI and 65 strikeouts in 137 at-bats.
You’d like better, but that was a considerable contribution.
The Twins had two days off after St. Louis. He was 0-for-4 Wednesday in his 11th game since then. He’s 4 for 42 (.095), with 21 strikeouts in 42 at-bats (.500). He enters the final weekend batting .207.
This caused a question to be asked of manager Rocco Baldelli during his Zoom session: “A couple of weeks ago, Miguel was being praised for discovering right field. What happened?”
Baldelli pointed to the fact 56 games had been played and said: “Normally, we’re probably not even judging a player until we get to 56 games. Now, we’re forced to talk about a four- game, 10-game spurts that guys are going in.
“We’ve seen Miguel go from kind of hovering for a while to being the best offensive player in the game for periods of time. … Is he swinging the bat exactly the way he’s wanted to? No, but he’s hit a ball as far as I’ve ever seen a ball hit in Chicago [Wrigley Field] the other day. We’re just going to keep working at it, and I have no doubt he’ll be just fine.”
Rocco’s the defending AL Manager of the Year and definitely entitled to his opinion.