June 17, 2015

When will Miguel Sano join Byron Buxton in Minnesota?

Miguel Sano Twins

Within minutes of the Twins calling up No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton the ever-present "when will he be in Minnesota?" questions shifted to No. 2 prospect Miguel Sano, who's spent all season in Chattanooga batting behind Buxton in the Double-A lineup. Sano is six months older than Buxton and has more upper-minors experience, playing 67 games at Double-A in 2013 and 56 games at Double-A this year, but in between he missed all of 2014 following Tommy John elbow surgery.

Buxton's call-up filled an obvious need, because through their first 61 games the Twins gave a dozen or more starts to three different center fielders and the trio of Jordan Schafer, Shane Robinson, and Aaron Hicks combined for a sub-.600 OPS to rank among the least-productive positions in baseball. Buxton was also thriving at Double-A, hitting .310/.379/.540 with 18 steals in his last 46 games. Toss in Hicks' recent forearm injury and all the dots were connected.

Sano, on the other hand, plays a position at which the Twins are pretty well set. Trevor Plouffe has slumped of late, but he's hitting .248/.315/.442 to basically match his 2014 numbers while rating as an above-average defender at third base for the second straight year. Plouffe has been one of the Twins' best all-around players, both this season and last season, and the Twins have the fourth-highest OPS in the league at third base.

Plouffe has emerged as an above-average starting third baseman at age 29 and with two more seasons of team control remaining before free agency. Beyond that Plouffe's performance--low batting average, mediocre on-base percentage, good power--is exactly the type of performance the Twins would be hoping to get from Sano as a 22-year-old rookie. Calling up Buxton to replace Hicks/Schafer/Robinson was a clear upgrade. Calling up Sano to replace Plouffe is not.

However, that doesn't mean calling up Sano to take over at another position wouldn't make sense. Defense has never been his strong point anyway and many people were skeptical about his ability to remain at third base long term even before missing an entire season following elbow surgery. His range will always be limited at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds, surgery may have lessened his arm strength, and Sano has committed 25 errors in 118 games as a Double-A third baseman.

He's also hit .302/.384/.561 in 38 games since May 1 following a rough April, basically picking up where he left off before missing all of last season. If the Twins still believe Sano can stick at third base they may be hesitant to halt his development there, but his bat has always been what makes Sano a top prospect and it looks just about ready now. It would be asking a lot for him to learn a new position on the fly and in the majors, but they could simply ask him to do nothing but hit.

Twins designated hitters rank 13th among AL teams in OPS, combining for a .250 batting average with three homers and a .339 slugging percentage in 60 games. Kennys Vargas has gotten 25 of those 60 starts, with another 18 going to Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer when they take days off from fielding. And the Twins' remaining 17 starts at DH have gone to light-hitting middle infielders Eduardo Escobar, Eduardo Nunez, and Danny Santana.

Vargas is capable of much more than he's given the Twins this season and if Oswaldo Arcia gets on track at Triple-A he's another quality DH option. But if the Twins again run out of patience with Vargas and continue to be less than enthused with Arcia, calling up Sano to take over at DH--with some action at third base and first base mixed in--would make only slightly less sense than calling up Buxton to take over in center field. It's an obvious hole and he's ready to fill it.

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  1. so much young talent, it’s fun to see who steps up and takes over.

    Comment by blindeke — June 17, 2015 @ 11:21 am

  2. Mauer playing first seems to clog everything up. If only he could go back to catching (or riding the bench), that would make room for Plouffe to move to first, Sano to play third, and Vargas to DH.

    Comment by Ryan Glanzer — June 17, 2015 @ 11:24 am

  3. I realize Mauer has become the root of all evil, but …

    Plouffe at 1B would not be a particularly valuable player. Sano at 3B may be well below average defensively. Vargas at DH currently has a lower OPS this season than Mauer. Etc., etc.

    Comment by Aaron Gleeman — June 17, 2015 @ 11:27 am

  4. So the obvious answer is to keep the above average defense of Plouffe at third, and put Sano at first. Maybe a change to DH will suit Mauer better mentally.

    Comment by Bryan — June 17, 2015 @ 11:34 am

  5. But then would Sano ever move away from first? If he can stick somewhere else I would hate to condemn him to first base before his career has even started. Look at what the positional adjustment has done to Mauer’s value even if he were to bounce back to respectable hitting.

    Comment by Joe — June 19, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

  6. Agreed. Moving Plouffe from third should not be an option. Sano to 1B would make more sense.
    I wish Joe could still catch. I’m sure he feels the same way.

    Comment by Kale — June 17, 2015 @ 4:39 pm

  7. Plouffe is good but not great. If you can get the same production out of a 22 year old rookie at half the price it also gives you a trading chip as good 3rd baseman are in high demand. If you keep Plouffe at 3rd and put Sano at 1st fitting his glove and arm better you can move Joe to DH where he can concentrate at getting back to the one thing he has normally done well when he was catching and that’s hitting. Bringing up Sano is a good idea.

    Comment by Shane P — June 20, 2015 @ 9:29 am

  8. I wonder if they could shift him to the outfield next year (after Hunter’s gone)? That leaves the other corner outfield spot to Arcia/Rosario with DH/1B between Vargas/Sano/Arcia with Pinto maybe getting some time between spot catching duty. Might need to trade one of those (non-Sano) guys to clear things up even more.

    Comment by Jason Winter — June 17, 2015 @ 11:32 am

  9. The outfield should not be a place to just throw guys when you don’t know where else to put them. That’s been part of the problem the past few years. You need good outfielders with range. Arcia should never touch a big league outfield again.
    1B would be the best fit for Sano.
    It’s too bad Joe can’t catch anymore.

    Comment by Kale — June 17, 2015 @ 4:33 pm

  10. He played one game in RF in 2011 and then was never tried there again. Given the logjam, either the Twins or Joe seemingly decided that was that. My guess is that Joe’s knees probably limit his range after spending 7,800+ innings knelt behind home plate over the past decade.

    Comment by Scott — June 17, 2015 @ 8:39 pm

  11. I’m intrigued by Mauer in the outfield, as he used to run really well, but I suspect he can’t now, because of the wear and tear on his knees, and because diving for a ball, or running into a wall, could end his career. Morneau dove for a ball–not running for a catch, just from first base–and still hasn’t made it back. A concussed brain is a fragile brain, sadly.

    Comment by by_jiminy — June 18, 2015 @ 3:40 pm

  12. You know, with or without the concussion it seems that Mauer was going to switch positions at some point to extend his career. The concussion/brain damage may have just moved it up a couple seasons given the sharp decline most catchers endure in their early thirties. The switch may have happened after this year in any event.

    I’m not sure why you would switch Plouffe to outfield given that at this point no one thinks Sano is going to be an ‘above average’ defensive asset there.

    Comment by Steve Johnson — June 18, 2015 @ 4:55 am

  13. It’s all about Vargas now. If he starts to show some power, Sano stays down a while longer. If not, then Sano replaces Vargas as DH in a couple weeks. Gotta get production from the DH.

    Comment by jimbo92107 — June 17, 2015 @ 11:27 pm

  14. Not just Vargas, also Arcia — if either one is hitting major league pitching, there’s no reason to rush Sano.

    Comment by by_jiminy — June 18, 2015 @ 3:42 pm

  15. Moving Plouffe from 3B at this time doesnt make sense. He is swinging a decent bat with decent power and playing above average D at 3B. That being said there is a glut of young potential that could be playing 1B/DH in Sano, Vargas, Arcia (even though he is in dog house and not exactly tearing it up his power potential is there)

    My question is that if this is the new normal for Joe Mauer is there any chance of him getting behind the plate again? .260 – .270 with decent with some gap power and a propensityh to hit with runners on would play at catcher…1B not so much.

    Doing this would clear some time to get some beef in the line up concistently

    Comment by abnormal_1 — June 20, 2015 @ 9:57 am

  16. “Kennys Vargas has gotten 25 of those 60 starts, with another 18 going to Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer when they take days off from fielding. ”

    Torii Hunter takes every day off from fielding.

    Comment by Go Twins — July 14, 2015 @ 11:30 am

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