The Situation: Much to the surprise of, well, everyone; the Twins have pitched and lucked their way to second place in the American League Central, despite ranking 24th in baseball in on-base percentage and 18th in slugging percentage. After calling up the top prospect in baseball (Byron Buxton) last month to help both in the field and with the bat, the Minnesota will call up their other upper-echelon bat in the system in the form of Miguel Sano.
Background: Sano’s story is well documented, and I mean that literally, as he was a main attraction in one of the best baseball documentaries ever made: Peletero. He was highly—and controversially—recruited by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but concerns over his actual age along with some less-than-upfront negotiation tactics saw him reject the offer form the Pirates, and sign with the Twins for $3.15 million, the largest signing bonus ever given to a non-Cuban player at the time. The third baseman quickly established himself as one of the best offensive prospects in all baseball; hitting 35 homers and posting a .992 OPS in 2013. He lost all of 2014 though after tearing his UCL, and got off to a slow start in 2015, but his 15 homers and .918 OPS both rank near the top of the Southern League leaderboard.
Scouting Report: Sano is massive, listed at 6’4”, 260 pounds, but likely a few pounds heavier; and his ability to transfer that weight along with his incredibly strong wrists give him as much power as any right-handed hitting prospect in baseball. He’s long-limbed and lets the ball travel deep, so he can take the ball out to any part of the field. If you ever get a chance to see the 22-year-old take batting practice, do it. It’s a fun show.
That power makes Sano an impressive hitting prospect, but what makes him one of the best is his feel for hitting. Because of the length of the limbs and swing there’s a lot of swing and miss, but he commands the strike zone like a veteran. Unlike many players his size, he doesn’t get tied up easily, and his ability to pick up spin and repeat his swing allows the ball to jump off the bat. A future batting champion he is not, but he certainly can hit for average and will draw his fair share of walks both due to his patience at the plate and opposing pitcher’s fear.
As you might guess for someone built like five-technique defensive lineman, Sano isn’t fleet of foot, and whether or not he’s going to be able to stick at third base long-term is very much in doubt. He’s relatively sure handed though with a strong throwing arm, and his ability to charge the ball despite the below-average speed is certainly good enough to not make him a target for bunt-loving hitters. At some point he’ll almost assuredly have to make the move over to first base—and maybe even DH as long as he’s in the American League—but he should be good enough with the glove to put off that move for a few seasons.
Immediate Big League Future: If Sano shows the same approach at the plate as he has for most of his minor-league career, he has a great chance to succeed. Even as a 22-year-old with no Triple-A experience, this is a 50-hit, 80-raw hitter right now who can make an immediate impact with the bat. That being said, there is a lot of swing-and-miss here, and we’ve seen time and time again that young guys who aren’t efficient at putting the ball in play struggle early. The upside is as high as anyone’s, but Twins fans should prepare for some growing pains early on. —Christopher Crawford
Fantasy Impact: There’s a balance to the universe, and it seems only fitting that when one top-of-the-scale, power-hitting prospect ends up back in the minors, another surfaces to fill the void. And while Sano may not have the full bombast of Joey Gallo, there’s plenty of GIF-worthy potential when he’s at the plate. Of course, just showing up is going to be an improvement for the Twins, who have gotten a whopping .234/.270/.320 line out of their designated hitters, when you remove the 22 combined games at the position from Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer. You know, because they’ll still play when Sano is in the lineup.
The rub with Sano is the power, without question, and it will come with its fair share of strikeouts. Additionally, the timing of the call up is great if you’re into the hot hand theory, as not only has Sano been hitting .315/.400/.601 with 11 homers in 178 Double-A at bats since the start of May, but he just finished a series at Montgomery where he went 11-for-20 with seven extra-base hits and a 1.725 OPS. The Biscuits certainly will be glad not to see Sano come into town to eat them up anymore. At peak, we’re looking at a potential 40 home run hitter; and that’s quite a rarity these days—which is what makes him so highly regarded as a fantasy prospect.
And while the power discussion rarely sees very divergent opinions, the batting average floor and ceiling is another story. Personally, I buy Sano as a potential .260 hitter down the road, rather than the .230-.240 hitter than some are worried about. He’s improved his contact rate with each month this season, and at 23.8 percent overall on the year, he’s putting the barrel on the ball more often than ever before (save a dominant 80 PA sample in the AZL). On top of that, he should be strong in both contextual categories due to his ability to get on base and drive the ball. He should be a fixture in the middle of that Twins lineup until they can’t afford him anymore. On top of that, he’s not an absolute zero on the bases either, as he’s slightly faster than common perception and he’s stolen at least eight bases in each of his last two full seasons.
With Kennys Vargas in Triple-A and the offense constantly looking for new ways to fight off it’s impending regression, Sano should get all of the playing time he can handle, even if it comes predominantly at designated hitter. And while the ballpark will be a slight thorn in his side (Target Field has an 88 park factor for RH home runs, per Statcorner), his raw power is large enough that it won’t be much of deterrence. If he can pick up 250 at bats the rest of the way, we could realistically be looking at a .240 average with 12-15 homers—and that would make him a borderline top-10 third baseman immediately. Of course, if you play in a Yahoo league, he’s even more special as they’ve designated him with shortstop eligibility for some reason. He hasn’t played shortstop since Rookie ball, but complain we shan’t.
In AL-only leagues where he is unowned, he should be the last big vestige for those not saving their money for crossovers. If you’re not one of the top two teams in FAAB dollars, you might as well throw almost all of your cash at Sano, and a $30-35 bid is perfectly reasonable. You can tick that up if you’re in an OBP format as well, likely into the $40 range. In shallower formats, he should be picked up in all leagues right now because the upside at a bad position is strong. In dynasty/keeper formats, he’s likely gone, but unless you’re waiting on Corey Seager, there’s no one better coming this year. —Bret Sayre
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