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Would playing the outfield be better for Miguel Sano short-term?

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Since Terry Ryan announced that Miguel Sano could see some outfield in 2015, the position change has been a hot topic of conversation.

Rob Carr

Miguel Sano was Minnesota's number two prospect going into 2014, when he was also ranked as highly as number three among league-wide prospects. Those kind of rankings carry some pretty lofty expectations, but that's come from day one with Sano when he was compared to superstars like Alex Rodriguez, Evan Longoria, and Hanley Ramirez. That potential was derailed in March when it was announced that he'd be going under the knife for the game's most notorious operation.

On Wednesday night, the Twins held their annual "town hall" meeting - also known as the annual season ticket holder conference call. There, amongst a great many other things, Terry Ryan commented on Miguel Sano. The talking point that's become of those comments is based around eight words: he could go to the outfield if needed.

That announcement, for whatever it's worth, has seen a backlash from Twins fans. Some of it has been the surprise that was expressed in the notion that Sano wouldn't start at third base from Opening Day, but a good deal of the criticism also came from the quarter that doesn't like to see Sano changing position. It's a legitimate argument, especially since the concern is mostly about doing what's right for the team (and Sano) in the long-term.

It is worth asking, though: what's best in the short term? Considering Sano's potential and the season that Trevor Plouffe just had, the Twins would be wise to get them both into the lineup if it's at all possible. So why consider Sano moving to the outfield, instead of Plouffe?

  1. Because the team will need a third baseman from Opening Day, when Sano won't be on the roster.
  2. There could be a short-term health benefit for Sano.
As mentioned in the ESPN 1500 link above:
...his Tommy John surgery from earlier this year leaves questions about whether he can make the throw from third base across the diamond on a regular basis. The infield throwing motion tends to put more stress on the elbow due to the compact nature of the throw, as opposed to outfield throws which involve longer loads.
That take was at least partially validated by Will Carroll (aka "The Injury Expert"), with whom I had a short conversation. "One hard, long throw," he said, "is seldom as forceful as several high-effort or poor mechanical throws." He went on to say that "It's a stretch to equate long-toss to an outfield throw, but post-TJ guys don't have issues with long toss once healthy."

Carroll admitted that there isn't much knowledge available on the mechanics of the outfield throw. The Motus Sleeve, a new technology which Carroll expounded upon in early July, could provide some insight. Still, there is the belief in baseball that the mechanics of throws from the outfield aren't as demanding as the mechanics of throws in the infield. If that is the case, it stands to reason that the Twins might try to move Sano - instead of Plouffe - to the outfield in the short term. Should the Twins go that route, they'd have the added benefit of having Sano patrol a corner outfield spot in the minor leagues, which would help him adjust before making his Major League debut.

Of course, this spring Minnesota could also be trying to find plate appearances for Josmil Pinto. When you have very good bats coming up through the system, sometimes it's more important to have that bat in the lineup than it is to have them play their natural position; I'd assume that statement to be more true for Sano than Pinto. But that doesn't answer the question of what's best for the player in the long run.

That's something I don't want to pretend to have an answer to. How does playing out of position for a year or two affect a player's long-term potential or production? Would the gains made offensively by slotting Sano into a corner outfield spot sell out the gains that could be made by playing him (for as long as possible) at his natural position from the word "Go"? All of this assumes that Sano could even play the outfield well enough to simply maintain a positive contribution to the team's run differential, and that - yes - asking him to make throws from the outfield for a year would benefit his arm in the long term.

Personally, if playing in the outfield in 2015 A) gets Sano into the lineup, B) makes the Twins better in 2015 as a whole, and C) makes the workload on Sano's elbow more bearable, then I'm all for it. Those are a lot of qualifications to make, but considering what we don't know about the mechanics of infield and outfield throws that feels like the most informed opinion I can make.