The last of our sponsored series for prospects going all the way came down to two choices: Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. After all we've written about Buxton lately, I decided we should give a little love to Sano.
As 2009's biggest and most sought-after international prospect signed with the Twins in 2009, there were two things that were on the radar from the very start. First, his power potential was enormous. There were comps to Evan Longoria and Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez. Second, people were convinced that because of his size at age 16 that he's move from shortstop to third base and, after that, into right field or first base. One of those two things turned out to be incredibly accurate.
Every baseball fan who pays even loose attention to the minor leagues knows to Miguel Sano is, because of that power potential. He's been named the Twins best power prospect every year since 2010, he's been one of his league's top two prospects every year since 2010, and in 2012 Baseball America named him the Midwest League's Best Power Prospect.
His 28 home runs led the Midwest League in 2012. His 35 bombs this season were good enough for fourth in the entirety of the minor leagues among players who can actually be considered prospects, trailing only Joey Gallo (40 HR, 19 years old, Texas Rangers, Rookie and Single-A), Javier Baez (37 HR, 20 years old, Chicago Cubs, Advanced-A and Double-A), and George Springer (37 HR, 23 years old, Houston Astros, Triple-A).
But it's not just Sano's power that's going to bring him to the Twins. After 2012 Baseball America rated him not just the Best Infield Arm in the Minnesota system, but the Best Infield Arm in the Midwest League. Sano has a cannon for an arm, which means that if he turns out to be even an average third baseman in terms of range and footwork, his plus arm is going to help gloss over a few minor sins.
Sano did finally hit a speed bump at Double-A in the last half of this season. More or less destroying pitchers at every level up until his promotion to New Britain, Sano's .236 batting average highlights the one hole in his offense: his tendency to swing and miss. That tendency has led to high strike out rates, which isn't a bad thing in itself and is, most of the time, part and parcel of big power prospects, but it has led some to question what kind of upside Sano really has. Adam Dunn? Giancarlo Stanton? Somewhere in between?
Strike zone judgement and plate discipline don't seem to be an issue. The skill of the free pass has gotten stronger along his rising trajectory, with the "difficult" (it's all relative) stop with the Rock Cats yielding a 13% walk rate. Sano seems to have a pretty good idea of when a pitch will be a strike or not. It's kept his on-base percentages high, making him something of a three true outcomes kind of prospect.
Sano's defensive ability, whether or not he can get better at making contact, and his on-base skills will all play a part in how complete of a player baseball's number three prospect will become. But the one thing that separates him from the herd is his power.
Sano's power develops from his size and strength, but also from his mechanics and his wide stance. His swing generates loft. As he loads, watch how his left foot comes in towards the plate, and then he points his toe before planting the foot just as he's about to swing. It looks like a timing and balance mechanism and, judging by Sano's results at least, it works.
Whether the Twins start Sano in Double-A next spring or give him the immediate boost to Triple-A remains to be seen, but regardless of where he starts the season he's as close to a sure shot as you can have to be called up in September. He'll need to be added to the 40-man roster next year to be protected from the Rule 5 draft, so making sure he's on board a couple of months earlier certainly won't hurt. That is, if he's not added this winter.
It terms of "going all the way", Sano is a lock to be with the Twins sooner rather than later. For a guy who was just 20 years old this season, at the levels he's been through, and having the success he's had, there's plenty of reason to think that he can be the special hitter that we all hope he'll be.
Here's hoping for another revelation of a year in 2014. It's going to be an exciting year.