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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Miguel Sano Relegated to First Base Already? You Must be Joking.

Miguel Sano for the World team at the 2013 Futures Game.
Image courtesy of me.
Last night I had a brief, and sort of strange, Twitter exchange with Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press. He tweeted "I'm still waiting for the Twins organization to hand Miguel Sano a first baseman's mitt." I replied, "Why, his 3B defense is much improved." Powers added, "It had no place to go but up, and it's still not close to adequate." Finally, I stated, "He turned 20 in May. Feels a bit early to give up on, esp[ecially] with other in-house 1B options, and T. Plouffe underwhelming w/ bat." Here's the link to the first of the Tweets. This definitely wasn't a Twitter argument or war -- I try not to get into those really at all -- but it was still very confusing to me, and I still firmly believe I'm correct.

First, let's agree on one thing: Powers is correct that Sano's defense had nowhere to go but up. Improvement was expected, for sure. But let's look at the data: Sano currently has 21 errors on the season (in 111 games thus far); in 2012 he had 42 errors in 126 games. He's playing at higher levels in 2013 than in 2012, and his fielding percentage has increased from .884 to .932. In fact, he's likely to cut his errors almost in half. Yes, that's not deep analysis, but it's something. I've watched Sano in person about 10-12 games this summer. No, he is not going to be elite defensively. But I hope if you were fortunate to watch this past week's game on FSN, you saw Sano make a fantastic play coming in on a slow roller down the line. He fielded it expertly and made a strong throw to get the runner. Yes, he still makes bad plays, but fans who think he's some kind of stone-handed giant at the hot corner are simply wrong.

Yes, Sano's defense is not where it eventually needs to be -- just like his bat is not yet at the major league level. But would the Twins really move him, at age 20, to an "easy" defensive position and give up on him playing third base, which has been a position of need for this team for many years since I have been born (excepting the Gary Gaetti and Corey Koskie years)? In one word, that sounds foolish.

Moreover, here is a short list of guys who could play first base for the Twins in 2014 that are not Miguel Sano: Justin Morneau (if the Twins got him for a year cheap); Chris Colabello (will he get a shot at a long stint in the majors starting to see if he is better than a AAAA player?); Joe Mauer (he almost certainly will play fewer games behind the plate in 2014 than in 2013, but the team needs that bat in the lineup); and Chris Herrmann (Twins fans, please pay attention: he is arguably the most versatile player on this team). The Twins certainly don't need him at first base, and that's certainly not his only shot to the majors.

Let's talk about third base depth for just a minute. Trevor Plouffe, 27 years old, is hitting .231/.292./.386 for the Twins this season. He has 9 errors in 88 games at the hot corner, and his fielding percentage at third base is .959 this season. I'd be an idiot to state that his defense isn't better than Sano's -- of course it is. But is he that much better? Will he eventually be that much better on defense than Sano might? Open question, but I tend to think that the guy who is 20, a better prospect than Plouffe ever was, and -- let us not forget -- is still learning to play third base after growing up as a shortstop -- will eventually equal or surpass Plouffe defensively. Not to mention that Plouffe's hitting has been awful this season. Finally, I should mention Deibinson Romero for a second. I like him, and he has some pop in his bat. I watched him all last season at New Britain, and he's a fun guy to follow. This season, he has a .952 fielding percentage up at Rochester, to go with a .264/.369/.418 line. He'll turn 27 next month. I'd hardly call him a legitimate prospect, but it's possible he could see major league time. Hypothetically, though, if the Twins are going to invest time and innings (while the team is bad) in a prospect that needs to improve defensively (and offensively), wouldn't you rather Sano get the chance, than Romero? In fact, I'd rather Sano get the chance at some point in 2014 (assuming continued improvement in the minors) over Plouffe.

The bottom line is this: when the Twins are next competing for a division title, Miguel Sano -- and not Trevor Plouffe or Deibinson Romero -- is going to be playing a crucial role. To give up on him at third base now, when things honestly don't matter since the reset of the team is so bad, is incredibly short-sighted.

The idea that the Twins -- headed for their third straight 90 loss season -- would give up on their second best prospect, who just turned 20, at a position of defensive importance for the franchise -- is preposterous. Perhaps Powers was trying to drum up conversation or say something provocative, but I think it came off as crazy. Yes, maybe someday, if Sano doesn't continue to improve defensively, he will become a right fielder (he does have a good arm) or a first baseman. But that day won't occur in 2013. In fact, I'd be shocked if it came before the end of the 2015 season.

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