Everyone knew 2014 was a tumultuous season for Miguel Sano, and one he wanted to put in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. But it’s not only because the hulking uber prospect missed the entire season — perhaps delaying his big league debut by at least that long — after having Tommy John surgery. As Tyler Kepner of the New York Times points out, there was something much heavier weighing on Sano’s mind as 2014 faded into 2015.
In a story that apparently few outside of Sano’s inner circle knew, Kepner reveals that the Minnesota Twins right fielder lost an infant daughter late that year.
The memorial stretches nearly from the wrist to the elbow on the right forearm of the major leagues’ next slugging star. Miguel Sano, the Minnesota Twins’ 22-year-old power hitter, is never far from his daughter.
Her name was Angelica, and she was born in the Dominican Republic on Nov. 28, 2014. She died about a week later, he said, because of a heart defect. Whenever Sano unleashes his ferocious — but controlled — swing, a tattoo of her name, with “R.I.P.” above and a dove trailing the last letter, is close to the impact.
Sano tells Kepner of an emotional 2015 season, and it’s clear it weighed on the slugger, who hit just .182/.311/.386 through his first 25 games at Double-A Chattanooga. There was little doubt that Sano would have to work through rust on his way back to the professional game, but few people knew what was going on in his brain.
Everything came to a head on a trip to Mississippi — side note: this came in mid-April, with Sano off to a relatively slow start — when Miguel was involved in some sort of dust-up that caused manager Doug Mientkiewicz to get involved. When the manager intervened, an emotional Sano spilled his guts.
He pulled Sano aside, sat down with him and learned about his daughter’s death.
“I eased up a ton off of him after I found this stuff out,” said Mientkiewicz, who shared stories of former teammates who had also dealt with heartbreak. “He’s a hard kid not to love, because he does everything so well. He’s a good teammate; the guys love him. He’s not flashy, he’s not arrogant. He’s just Miggy.”
Mientkiewicz added that the mental rigors of the game were overwhelming Sano, but that subsided after the All Star Break, when he took off and eventually forced his way to Minnesota. Sano played just five more games in the minors after the All Star Break; three of those games he had multiple hits — including a four-hit game — and in total he hit .500 with an OPS approaching 1.800. Mientkiewicz spoke to the big club’s GM Terry Ryan, and told him he didn’t know where else the team could send him, but that it was “not normal what he’s doing to this league.” Eight days after returning from the break, Sano found himself donning a Twins uniform for the first time in Kansas City, and in his sixth big league game, he hit the first of 18 home runs in just an 80-game cup of coffee with the team.
His teammates rave about his approach. Sano idolizes players like Miguel Cabrera, and teammate Phil Hughes suggests it’s not hard to see a parallel.
“I think he saw two 3-2 changeups,” Hughes said (of his 2016 spring debut). “He’s not selling out to just guess fastball and hit an absolute bomb. He’s got a really, really good approach at the plate. It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen from a guy his age. He’s so big, he’s so strong, and he knows he doesn’t have to take this big, monstrous swing. If he doesn’t get the pitch he wants, fine.”
From his upbringing to being thrust onto the big stage after signing with the Twins, it has been a whirlwind for the young Sano, who still won’t turn 23 until the 2016 season is about 40 games old. But as he told Kepner, he’s got a great support system, and faith to get him through everything.
Sano said he had a strong support group, with his mother, his brother, his sister and his wife in the United States. He said that he hoped to be a father again someday and that he did not dwell on his loss.
“I know that God does everything for us, so I need to repay that,” Sano said. “And I told my family that I’m O.K. now.”
Image credit: Brian Curski, Cumulus Media