Back in 2015, when no one expected the Minnesota Twins to be any good. But somehow, the team played well above expectations. They would finish the season above .500 with an 83-79 record. This would good for second in the American League Central division, finishing only behind the eventual World Series Champions, the Kansas City Royals.
In that season they also only missed out on the playoffs by three games. They fell three games shy of one of the two Wild Card spots on the year. This led to some high hopes leading into the 2016 season. But it all turned out to be a false hope.
Fans of the team wish they could just erase the 2016 season from their memory. The team went from surprising upstarts to a complete dumpster fire. They would finish the season with a putrid 59-103 record. Not only was good for last place in the AL Central, but also the worst record in all of MLB. The next worst team(s), which was a tie between San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays, each had nine more wins than the Twinkies.
So needless to say, hopes will once again be non-existent in the Twin Cities. Instead, fans will continue to point out what went wrong in 2016 until the team gets back on the winning path. There are obviously a ton of things that contributed to that historically poor season. But one thing in particular stands out to this baseball fan. And that was the performance of the rising youngster, Miguel Sano.
Sano is a soon-to-be 24-year-old thumper who has some insane power. He was a highly regarded prospect for a number of seasons (second in the organization in both 2013 and 2014) before making his debut during the 2015 season.
In his first taste with the big league club, Sano played in 80 games. Over the course of 279 at-bats, the slugger hit .269 with 18 homers, 52 RBIs while slugging .530 in what was an impressive debut. He would spend most of his time at the DH spot during the season, with only one major flaw. And that was his tendency to strikeout, whiffing in 35.5 percent of his plate appearances.
As the 2016 season approached, the team decided they would use him primarily as an outfielder. That decision proved to be the wrong one, on multiple accounts. For starters, he did not last long in the outfield, and would eventually play more games at third base on the season. In addition, his production at the plate also suffered. Whether that was because he was trying to focus more on defense, an injury or something else, we do not know.
But no matter the cause, his offensive numbers certainly did take a dip. His average went from .269 to .236. His slugging dropped to .462. He did hit seven more home runs, but that was over the course of an extra 158 at-bats. His already poor strikeout percentage crept up slightly, moving to 36 percent. And finally, his walk rate took a tumble, going from 15.8 percent to 10.9.
Now we look ahead to the 2017 MLB season. The team has decided to leave him at third base for the season. The power hitting righty is also a good bet to be entrenched in the cleanup spot as things get going. But if he wants to stay there, he is going to need to take a step forward, and not backward.
But signs point to some of the same old issues for Sano thus far in Spring Training. Over the course of 13 games, he has had 35 at-bats. This has led to an average of .229 with two long balls and 16 strikeouts to go along with just two walks.
If the team wants to take any form of step in the right direction, Sano is going to need to cut back on some of these strikeouts. Yes, a guy with 30 home run power is nice, but when he is the focal point of the order, the average and on-base skills need to be a little better than what Sano is showing right now.
The Twins have a bit of a history of their highly touted prospects not panning out. Aaron Hicks was supposed to be the next big thing. The team finally gave up on him before last year, shipping him to the Bronx. Byron Buxton is still young and starting, but he was a bigger name than Sano and hasn’t lived up to the hype yet. Then we have guys like Danny Santana, Oswaldo Arcia, Kyle Gibson and Eddie Rosario, all of whom can be considered busts.
Now, Sano is still at an age where he can avoid that bust label. However, another down season and he will be headed in that direction. In addition, if he continues with his issues making contact, leading to overall mediocre results, the club will certainly begin to lose faith in him. Much like they have in previous top prospects.
This is a team that has not been very good, minus that decent/surprising 2015 run, since the Joe Mauer-Justin Morneau days. And a lot of that has to do with their inability to produce any home grown talent. Minnesota isn’t exactly a hot spot for free agents either. So they are going to need one of these big named youngsters to step up sooner or later.
Sano has the potential to be that guy. But he also has the potential to be just another name on the bust list for the Twins. At 24 this season, Sano needs to prove he can take a step forward. This year will not only be important for him and his career, but also the trajectory of this team.