FanPost

Where will Miguel Sano be in April?

USA TODAY Sports

Jesse recently posted a piece that looked back at Miguel Sano's 2013 season. Just 20 years old, he showed prodigious power at both High-A Ft. Myers and AA New Britian. As everyone here knows, Sano has been ranked as one of the top prospects in baseball the past two years, and he will be near the top of the lists that are compiled during the next few months (he is already #3 on John Sickels's end-of-season top-75).

There is no question that he is an elite talent - the question right now is what is the path going forward; basically, when will he make the majors? I expect this to be one of the biggest conversation topics of the offseason, and quite possibly the biggest move or non-move the organization will make over the winter.

Having had success at AA, he is now knocking at the door to the majors. The general consensus from the scouts/analysts I follow seems to be that Sano will start next season at AAA, and then be promoted to the majors sometime mid-season in order to conserve service time. Among Twins fans, there were calls for calling up Sano this September, and there is currently talk about having Sano fight for the 3rd base job out of spring training. I wanted to form my own opinion about this decision, so I dug into Sano’s AA stats and found two numbers that really jumped out.

Home Runs

The first number that jumps out from Sano’s season is the power. He hit 19 home runs in just 276 plate appearances. He lead the Eastern League in slugging percentage. It is pretty spectacular power for a 20-year-old. Unprecedented, really. Looking back through past 10 seasons in the Eastern League, here are the top sluggers 20-years-old or younger:

Year

Name

Age

PA

HR

HR%

2013

Miguel Sano

20

276

19

6.88%

2012

Jonathan Schoop

20

555

14

2.52%

2011

Anthony Gose

20

587

16

2.73%

2010

Anthony Rizzo

20

467

20

4.28%

2009

Jesus Montero

19

181

9

4.97%

2008

Travis Snider

20

423

17

4.02%

2007

Andrew McCutchen

20

498

10

2.01%

2006

Carlos Gomez

20

486

7

1.44%

2005

Eric Duncan

20

520

19

3.65%

2004

Hanley Ramirez

20

139

5

3.60%

As you can see, Sano blows everyone else out of the water. Sano’s home run rate is almost 40% higher than the next best young slugger, Jesus Montero. However, it is interesting to see that being on this list doesn't guarantee anything, as many of these top young sluggers have failed or are failing to make it in the majors.

In order to put a little bit of context to this home run number, I looked at his competition. Competition at the AA level can be highly variable, so it is important to know if Sano is hitting these home runs off the dredges of the league, or if he is hitting them off of other top prospects. I went through and determined the opposing pitcher for all 19 of Sano’s AA home runs to see who he was hitting this homers off.

Opponent

Rank

Age

ERA

BB%

K%

HR%

Victor Larez


26

4.69

4.81%

16.11%

4.26%

Will Roberts


22

4.52

5.84%

16.38%

2.26%

Jason Townsend


24

6.04

9.88%

14.40%

2.47%

Austin Wright

C+

23

6.10

13.64%

17.46%

2.87%

Seth Rosin

C+

24

4.21

6.48%

18.29%

2.10%

Tyler Knigge

C

24

4.68

10.19%

17.36%

2.64%

Ryan Fraser


24

5.24

13.69%

13.10%

1.79%

Erik Goeddel

C

24

3.83

10.23%

21.54%

1.62%

Jeremy Kehrt


27

4.27

7.51%

17.06%

1.37%

Bobby Lanigan


26

7.85

4.71%

17.65%

3.53%

Matt Packer


25

3.34

6.84%

18.24%

1.14%

Bobby Bramhall


27

3.23

9.80%

17.16%

1.96%

Mario Hollands


24

4.80

6.70%

20.54%

1.79%

Sean Nolin

B

23

3.01

6.49%

26.75%

1.30%

Mark Cohoon


25

4.07

5.81%

17.63%

1.66%

Devin Jones

C+

22

5.45

8.13%

20.44%

2.78%

Ryan Demmin


25

4.58

4.88%

9.76%

1.22%

Total




7.84%

18.35%

2.17%

Eastern League



4.02

9.18%

20.10%

1.95%


Sano hit his 19 home runs against 17 pitchers. Unfortunately, these 17 pitchers did not consist of the top talent of the Eastern League. Only 4 pitchers had ERAs better than league average, and only one pitcher, Sean Nolin, had a significantly better-than-average strikeout rate for the season. Searching for these pitchers in John Sickels’s 2013 Prospect Book, Nolin was the only one with a semi-high prospect ranking, and 11 of the pitchers were considered non-prospects. Sano did most of his home run hitting against below league-average pitchers. At first glance, I thought that Sano just padded his stats against lesser pitchers of the league.

Now, 19 at-bats is a very small sample so it may just be a random quirk rather than have any particular meaning. Ideally, I should have gone through every single plate appearance and catalogued each opponent as either potential major-leaguer or career minor-leaguer. But I was too lazy to go through all 276 plate appearances; instead, I did go through the Eastern League pitchers and try to determine the breakdown of pitcher quality in the league. Looking at every pitcher who threw at least 50 innings, 38% appeared in Sickels’s book, with 12% (just 15 pitchers) rated B- or better. Therefore, it makes sense that Sano’s home runs would be distributed as they are, with the vast majority against C or non-prospects.

How did he fare against the top pitching prospects in the league? Well, due to promotions, benchings and scheduling quirks, Sano missed many of the top pitching prospects who spent time in the league. According to my research, 8 pitchers in the Eastern League showed up on Sickels’s End of Season Top-75: Noah Syndergaard (11), Jameson Taillon (12), Marcus Stroman (49), Rafael Montero (50), Henry Owens (54), Anthony Ranaudo (58), Jesse Biddle (63), and A.J Cole (68). According to my review, Sano only had three games against pitchers from that list (Syndergaard, Biddle, and Stroman), and in those games Sano was 0-5 with 4 strikeouts and a walk. Definitely not a positive showing (especially with all the strikeouts), but 6 plate appearances is essentially meaningless. However, it does provide a lead-in to the next number that jumped out at me - strikeout rate.

Strikeouts

Sano's struck out in 29.3% of his plate appearances. The league average was 20.1%, which means that Sano was significantly worse than average. In order to put Sano's strikeout numbers into perspective, I dug up some recent power hitters and compared their AA numbers to Sano's. I tried to pick players that Sano has been compared to, as well as players that were approximately the same age as Sano in AA.

AA

Age

PA

BB

K

HR

BB%

K%

HR%

AVG

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

Miguel Sano

20

276

36

81

19

13.04%

29.35%

6.88%

0.236

0.344

0.571

0.915

0.335

Giancarlo Stanton

20

240

44

53

21

18.33%

22.08%

8.75%

0.313

0.442

0.729

1.171

0.416

Justin Upton

19

306

37

51

13

12.09%

16.67%

4.25%

0.309

0.399

0.556

0.955

0.247

Miguel Cabrera

20

303

31

49

10

10.23%

16.17%

3.30%

0.365

0.429

0.609

1.038

0.244

Delmon Young

19

370

25

66

20

6.76%

17.84%

5.41%

0.336

0.386

0.582

0.968

0.246

Chris Davis

21

124

13

27

12

10.48%

21.77%

9.68%

0.294

0.371

0.688

1.059

0.394

Oswaldo Arcia

21

299

28

62

10

9.36%

20.74%

3.34%

0.328

0.398

0.557

0.955

0.229

David Ortiz

21

285

21

78

14

7.37%

27.37%

4.91%

0.322

0.379

0.585

0.964

0.263


It is very apparent that Sano has the worst strikeout rate of all these young sluggers. In particular, he is significantly worse than Giancarlo Stanton at the same age and level, which is noteworthy as Stanton is one of the players I’ve most frequently heard Sano compared. As I mentioned in the previous section, Sano’s overall level of competition at AA was not very high. This high strikeout rate came against career minor leaguers or marginal prospects. If he has trouble with their pitches, it makes me wonder how he will handle major league quality pitches. It is worth pointing out that Sano also draws a large number of walks, which helps offset some of the strikeouts.

Moving forward, almost every player has their strikeout rates increase and walk rates decrease when promoted to the major leagues. For example, Oswaldo Arcia’s strikeout rate has increased from 21% to 31%, and his walk rate decreased from 9% to 6%. I have concerns that if Sano is promoted directly to the majors to start next season, his strikeout rate could balloon even further, and he could challenge Chris Carter (36%) for the league’s worst strikeout rate.

For those who prefer to see Sano move up more aggressively, David Ortiz provides both an optimistic and cautionary tale. Like Sano, Ortiz completed basically just a half-season at AA in 1997 before being promoted to the major league roster to start the 1998 season. (Ortiz also had 44 AAA PAs and 51 MLB PAs in 1997). Also like Sano, Ortiz showed excellent power but suffered from a high strikeout rate. Just 22 years old in 1998, he had a very good season. His line of .277/.371/.446 was excellent (compare it to Arcia's .249/.302/.424), and more impressively he was able to cut his strikeout rate from 27% to 22%. This was in response to the Twins emphasis on limiting strikeouts under Tom Kelly.

Even after making major improvements in his strikeout rate, Ortiz was still criticized by the team. Based on the perceived strikeout issues and some defensive deficiencies, Ortiz was sent down to AAA for almost the entire 1999 season. After three more good but not great seasons in the majors, Ortiz was released and picked up by Boston. There he blossomed into one of the most feared power hitters of his generation.

Looking at Ortiz's strikeout rates during his career, he didn't sacrifice strikeouts for more power when he went to Boston. His strikeout rate stayed the same - between 15% and 20%, but at the same time upped his slugging percentage by over .100. In later interviews, Ortiz had fairly damning things to say about the Twins hitting philosophy: "Something in my swing was not right in Minnesota. I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they'd say to me, ‘Hey, hey, what are you doing?' So I said, ‘You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.'" This comment jives with things said by JJ Hardy and Carlos Gomez after leaving the organization.

Sano’s Future

I had hoped to dig into Sano's AA numbers and come to a clear conclusion regarding his future development path. Instead, I can see strong arguments for both conclusions. On one hand, there is no denying that he put a world of hurt on the balls he did manage to hit. With power like his, he doesn't need to hit for a high average in order to be productive, which means he could probably provide some value to the terrible Twins lineup right now. But at the same time it was amazing just how few at bats he had against the top pitchers in the Eastern League this past season. And while it does him little good for his future development to just hit monster home runs off 88 mph fastballs, his high strikeout rate came against those same career minor leaguers.

Sano’s strikeout rate in AA shows that he is either not recognizing or swinging through AA-quality pitches. It doesn't seem unreasonable that he should at least show some mastery of AA pitching before moving up to AAA, much less the majors. So it basically comes down if one thinks Sano will hit enough for the power to play at the major league level right now, and if he will adjust fast enough to continue to provide value throughout the season.

Personally, I'm leaning toward the pessimistic side, as the strikeout rate scares me. My fear with promoting Sano as the Twins starting 3rd baseman right out of Spring Training is that he will struggle so much that he will change his swing, sacrificing power for contact. If he is striking out at an obscene rate to start the season, there will be a lot of temptation for the Twins to tell him to "Go the other way" and "Don't try to do too much", and force him to change his swing and approach like they have done with Ortiz, Hardy and Gomez. Even if the Twins don't force him to change his swing, he may decide himself to make drastic changes to his swing mechanics or approach if he feels completely over-matched.

From a purely selfish perspective, I would like Sano to start the year back at AA. I live in the DC area, and there are opportunities to see the Rock Cats nearby. It was fun to watch Sano, Eddie Rosario and Alex Meyer this past summer, and it would be awesome to see them share the field with Byron Buxton. They will all be playing at Target Field soon enough, but I wouldn't mind a sneak peak early next year.

Regardless of when he finally reaches the majors, I really hope that Sano crushes it. I'm tired of Twins prospects struggling out of the gate and being shuffled back and forth between AAA and the majors. Sano will probably hit for low average and strikeout a lot (especially at first), but he can still provide a lot of value if he hits for power and draws some walks. The Twins haven't always appreciated that skill set in their younger players, so it will be interesting to see how he is handled. He will be the best Rookie-of-the-Year candidate the Twins have had since Liriano, and I hope he wins it (or finishes second to Buxton). The question is whether it will be this coming season or the next. Stay tuned.

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