Your place for Minnesota Twins and New Britain Rock Cats coverage, analysis and opinion.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Thoughts on Miguel Sano, Discipline, and the Twins' (and Rock Cats') Reaction

"Bocaton" is Miguel Sano's nickname.
It means "Big Mouth."
The biggest Twins story this past week hasn't been the team's resurgence toward respectability with a few series wins, or the impending trade deadline that will likely ship out fan-favorite Justin Morneau. No, to be sure, the focal point of discussion has been out here in New Britain, Connecticut, where Miguel Sano has been benched since a Tuesday night home run that undoubtedly left Terry Ryan (in attendance), manager Jeff Smith, opposing pitcher (and up until this June a Rock Cat himself) Bobby Lanigan, and others less than thrilled. If by chance you haven't seen the home run, here's a link to the video.

There are at least a couple schools of thought being played out in the media, and by fans right now. It's more complicated than two schools, but I'll distill it here for the sake of brevity. One school suggests that the Twins were correct to bench Sano for this display. They believe that the benching isn't an attempt to take away Sano's fire and attitude, but rather to instill in him the "correct" way to play the game. They also note that the benching didn't have as much to do with the homer as it did Sano's reactions to Ryan and Smith when questioned after the game.

The second school suggests that the Twins are trying to take away the lively and fiery personality of one of their best hitting prospects, and a guy that could help turn around this franchise as early as next season. "They're going to tell him to start hitting to opposite field," this crowd might say, in reference to what the Twins suggested to (then struggling hitter) David Ortiz.

As usual, I think the truth is somewhere in-between. I've seen 3 of 4 of Sano's AA home runs in person. A couple facts: he never runs fast around the bases, and he may linger at home plate for a second or two if he knows the ball isn't coming back. That being said, I've never seen him stand at home plate for 5-6 seconds, then take almost 30 seconds to round the bases. For some good background on this particular home run, and Sano's prior dealings with pitcher Bobby Lanigan, please, please read Pat Reusse's column here. Just like with most things in life, there's more than meets the eye in connection with this at-bat.

More important than Reusse's rendition of Lanigan's and Sano's past conflicts, however, is Reusse's call to action to the Twins to hire a coach from Latin America, pronto. To give credit where credit is due, Reusse is not the first person to point this out. I know, among others, that Thrylos at The Tenth Inning Stretch has been clamoring for the Twins to do exactly this for at least a few seasons. And right now, that suggestion really makes sense.

No, hiring a native-Spanish speaker (hopefully a younger, ex-MLB player) is not a cure-all. But there is something to be said for the fact that Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario, and Sano -- three players most recently disciplined by the Twins -- are playing on teams that lack a coach/mentor/leader that shares cultural characteristics. The Twins should be lauded for getting Arcia, Rosario and Sano. All 3 could be All-Star caliber players, and the Twins spent millions to get them. But something is being lost in translation, and I'm not sure what the fix is.

I watched, and loved, Ballplayer Pelotero, the documentary featuring Sano. I can't pretend to understand the struggle of these Latin American ballplayers. Yes, they often are given between several hundred thousand and several million dollars to sign, but that happens at age 16. And at least in Sano's case, it's been stated that he is not in control of that money, and that much of the money has been spent in real estate in his native Dominican Republic. These kids go from poor to somewhat wealthy; from living in the Dominican Republic or a similar country to living in Ft. Myers or Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and from being big-shots in their hometown to being cogs in a large, large wheel. The point here isn't to suggest that we need to feel sympathy for Sano et al., but rather that we, as fans, have no idea the pressures they face, and whether they are at all equipped to face such pressures.

I think Reusse's piece was spot-on. Trading aging veterans, continuing to sign top prospects, and allowing rookies to learn from their mistakes will make the Twins better in the long-run. Hiring multiple native Spanish speaking coaches at multiple levels of the system (assuming they're otherwise qualified, of course), will help this organization immediately. I can't suggest that this is a cure-all, but I can suggest that something is absolutely getting lost in translation. Would a native-Spanish speaking coach have prevented Sano's display? Probably not. But might that coach been able to have diffuse the situation (keeping in mind that Sano's English is improving but is not at all good) before too much damage was done? Perhaps.

A couple final points:

  • I expect Sano to be back in the lineup either today or when New Britain comes home tomorrow. The team has been drawing well at home, but is not selling out mid-week games. Sano puts people in seats, and fans want to see him the last month of the season. 
  • Sano is not a jerk. I've read on TwinsDaily, and a few other comment boards, where people are saying that they don't care what his personality is, so long as he gets the job done. There's some merit to that: the vast majority of Twins players are very nice and personable, and some (many over the past few seasons) simply don't get the job done. I want Sano to succeed on the ballfield more than I want him to be considered a logical replacement host for Michael Strahan when he retires from his gig with Kelly Ripa. But these aren't mutually exclusive. From my brief encounters with Sano, he is a nice guy. I see him supporting teammates, yelling "let's go," -- and meaning it -- as he trots from third base back to the dugout when the team was down by 5 runs late in a game. I see him signing for kids before games, and tossing balls into the stands as he jogs back into the dugout. Sure, part of this very well might be a display, but by no means have I seen him be rude or discourteous to paying customers or reporters.
  • Finally, HE IS 20 YEARS OLD. What kind of dumb stuff did you do when you were 20? Did you think that you knew a lot? I did. Did you think that money grew on trees when you got a big paycheck from that summer job? I did. The Rock Cats (through the Twins) are trying to make Sano mature a little faster than he is ready for. Why? Because next year at this time they fully expect he's going to be manning third base for the Twins. He's going to be on ESPN. He'll have sponsorship deals. He's going to be in the public eye of the nation, not just Twins Territory and Central Connecticut. Videos of his dumb displays won't be grainy and on YouTube; they'll be on SportsCenter for the world to see.


  1. It has been baffling that the Twins haven't brought more Hispanic ex players into the coaching ranks. I suggest the Twins contact Juan Castro, who is currently with the Dodgers in an advisory role and offer him a ML coaching position. Ex Twin, great glove. Could be a solid mentor to the upcoming stars like Rosario, Arcia and Sano. Each minor league team needs to be addressed in the same way.

  2. Thanks for the comment! Juan Castro seems like a great suggestion. Maybe have him start off in AA or AAA for a season so he gets to know most of the young guys he's going to be coaching??

  3. Reusse has a fine idea. I wonder how easy it is to find former big league players from Latin America who would not only make good coaches but also would be willing to leave the comforts of home to spend the spring and summer in Smalltown America, making minor league coaches' salary, in what may be a fairly limited job. The Twins might have better luck hiring some guys who never made the big time, never made millions of dollars.

  4. Thanks for your perspective as one who gets to watch the Rock Cats in person.
    I don't know any Spanish, but I found this translation of 'bocaton' interesting. I suspect your translation as 'big mouth' is more accurate for Sano's nickname.