Friday, February 1, 2013

Miguel Sano and defensive development

Based on the lines for the minor league autograph station at TwinsFest, Miguel Sano fever has hit the Twin Cities a couple years before he will most likely make his MLB debut. The team's top prospect had fans lining up for hours to get his signature on a ball, a bat, or their favorite photo. It was fun for fans to see the future star in person and it helps to give some hope to the future.

Sano will be entering his fourth season as a member of the Twins organization next year. He has worked his way slowly through the Twins system and he continues to rank as one of the best prospects in the game of baseball. In the recently released rankings, he finished in the top 20. His power is undeniable but his biggest flaw is his defense at third base.

When the Twins signed Sano as a 16-year old shortstop, there wasn't too much hope of the "man child" sticking it out at a middle infield position. The team let him play a handful of games there in his first two seasons in the minor leagues. But last season, he made the shift to playing full time at third base and it was his first time playing in a full season league.

In 2010, Sano played 36 games at third base and 18 games at shortstop between the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League. Over 54 games and 190 chances, Sano had 22 errors between his two positions. Most of those errors, 17 of them, came at third base but he was 17-years old. He was also becoming accustomed to a new position and baseball in a foreign country.

The 2011 season saw Sano play the entire year with the Elizabethton Twins. He would play 16 games at shortstop but the bulk of his work would come during his 48 games at third base. Sano had double-digits in errors at both spots as he started to add some bulk to his body. His 26 total errors weren't great but there were some positive signs at the hot corner.

Minnesota made a decision going into 2012 to have Sano play exclusively at third base. With his bigger frame and increased muscle mass, it only seemed like a natural progression for the young man. The Twins have been a defensive oriented club since their days back at the Metrodome and the focus hasn't changed in recent years. There were going to be some improvements made along the way.

It would be a rough start to the season in the field as Sano tried to adjust to the colder weather in the Wisconsin spring and a longer schedule. In 69 games before the All-Star Game, Sano had 24 errors. He would improve in the second half of the year by having 18 miscues in 60 games. It was a small improvement but it was another step in the right direction.

Following the season, Sano went to instructional league and one of his focuses was to improve on the defensive side of the ball. There were positive reports from Florida that the third baseman was making strides in the right direction. Jonathan Mayo, the top prospect writer for, even did a featured article about his improvements. The Twins and other scouts seem to believe that Sano will be able to stick at third base.

One of the biggest benefits for Sano on the defensive side of the ball could be the man that will likely be his coach at the start of next season. The Twins hired Doug Mientkiewicz to be the new manager for the Ft. Myers Miracle. A former Gold Glove winner at a corner infield position, Mientkiewicz might have a few lessons to teach his new third baseman.

Sano will most likely be listed as weighing 235-240 pounds next season. This is a big man to be playing at third base. Nick Nelson of Twins Daily wonders if Sano is too big to stay at third. He compares his weight with the other regular starters in MLB. There are only a couple that are in that weight class and that might be a scary proposition for Twins fans.

When there is as much hype surrounding a player like Sano, the fans are going to pay attention to plenty of what he does on his path to the major leagues. His defense will be a focal point for improvement and there have been some positive signs. Baseball America thinks he has the best infield arm in the Twins system and that is a skill that wouldn't be very useful if he had to move to first base.

The Twins are going to give Sano every opportunity to stick at third.

And with a talent like his, there is no reason to stray from that plan...yet.

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