The Miguel Sano injury situation trudged through Day 18 on Tuesday without much of an update as the Minnesota Twins prepared to open a quick two-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals.
“(It was) more of the same today,” manager Paul Molitor said. “(He) ran the bases. Still, from my vantage point, we’re not seeing max effort, which we’re going to need to see. He’s swinging the bat fine. It’s just going to making sure he can do everything he needs to on a baseball field and play a position defensively.”
That pretty much falls in line with Molitor’s comments on Monday, where he said Sano was not “very close” to returning.
But whether that’s 7-to-10 days — or perhaps longer — the Twins have stomached a lack of offense without Sano for too long.
That’s not an indictment on Eduardo Escobar, the team’s erstwhile third baseman while Sano has been down. Coming into Tuesday’s game, Escobar is hitting a very Sano-like .274/.329/.548 with seven homers in 34 games.
That’s a 34-homer pace for 162 games — six more than Sano’s career-high of 28, set last season.
The issue has come at shortstop, as Escobar has slid over and left the spot open for Ehire Adrianza. Adrianza did a fine job as a utility player in 2017, but is clearly stretched as a regular. He’s hitting just .229/.295/.286 through 78 plate appearances this season, a little less than half the number he took last year (186) when he hit .265/.324/.383 and filled in capably all over the diamond defensively.
That’s not to say that Adrianza doesn’t have a spot on the 25-man roster of a winning club. He provided the Twins with a win of value — per Fangraphs’ WAR metric — last season. But if the idea was that Adrianza was only going to fill in briefly while Sano recuperated, it’s quickly becoming clear that’s no longer the case.
Sano’s roster spot was filled by 33-year-old journeyman Gregorio Petit, who prior to 2018 had cups of espresso with the A’s (2008-09), Astros (2014), Yankees (2015) and Angels (2016), but had only once played more than 40 games in any big league season. Even by virtue of a strong six-game stretch with the Twins where he’s hitting .429, he’s still just a career .255/.297/.355 hitter.
As a temporary move, adding him to the 40-man roster — and putting Ervin Santana on the 60-day DL as a corresponding transaction — was defensible. But now it seems like it’s time to take a broader look at the road ahead.
It’s time to promote infield prospect Nick Gordon.
Gordon is the 22-year-old son of former big leaguer Tom “Flash” Gordon, and the kid brother of Mariners outfielder Dee Gordon. The Twins took him fifth overall in the 2014 MLB draft, and he’s terrorizing Double-A pitchers in the Southern League this year as he is repeating a level for the first time.
Through 36 games with the Lookouts, Gordon has played mostly shortstop — 28 starts there, six at second and two at DH — and is hitting a robust .350/.392/.526 with 15 extra-base hits and five stolen bases.
It’s an encouraging sign after Gordon hit .270/.341/.408 with the Lookouts last year. That alone is a respectable mark — keeping in mind that he was three years younger than the average Southern league player — but it also came with a price.
Gordon hit a tremendous .315/.376/.504 before the All-Star break, and just .221/.304/.305 thereafter. That’s most likely the reason Gordon was sent back to Chattanooga rather than continuing at his level-per-year progression he’d been on. If that was the case, he’d have started the season in Rochester this year.
So the Twins have a hole at shortstop; they also have an uber-prospect killing it at Double-A.
Would it be so crazy to bring a player up from that level?
Not at all. Prospects of this caliber — Gordon is a four-time top-100 prospect from industry publications Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus and MLB.com — routinely come up from Double-A, and the Twins have not been hesitant in the past to do it, either.
A wrinkle in that equation is the power structure in place now (Derek Falvey and Thad Levine) as opposed to then (Terry Ryan and before him, Andy MacPhail), but there’s ample evidence that teams are more than willing to bring players of this caliber up from Double-A.
Joe Mauer never played a single game at Triple-A until he was on a rehab stint. The same is true for Sano. Byron Buxton has played 65 games for Triple-A Rochester, but none of them came until after his MLB debut.
Chuck Knoblauch — not the worst comp for Gordon, really — was the team’s opening-day second baseman in 1991 after playing all of 1990 at Double-A Orlando. He rode that train to the AL Rookie of the Year award and a World Series ring on a veteran-laden team that year.
Nobody would compare this year’s team to the 1991 club, but there are enough veterans that it wouldn’t be throwing the kid to the wolves, for instance.
Kirby Puckett — one of those aforementioned veterans on the ‘91 club — played just 21 games above A ball before he was called to the big leagues in 1984. He never went back.
So it’s by no means unprecedented, and perhaps even invited that well-regarded prospects skip Triple-A and head to the big leagues.
And maybe Gordon’s long-term future is at second base if the Twins don’t re-sign Brian Dozier. That doesn’t mean they can’t get his feet wet at shortstop while batting him ninth in the order in his first taste of big-league action.
In fact, that’s where Dozier got his start in the bigs.
Prospect writer Chris Blessing — who has watched plenty of Gordon the last two years and will be writing up a feature on him later this week for Baseball HQ — sees the future as a second baseman, but it doesn’t have to be that way from the outset.
“I think Gordon is a second baseman long-term because of throwing-arm concerns,” Blessing told Zone Coverage. “But that doesn’t mean he can’t handle (shortstop) in the short-term.”
The arm wasn’t supposed to be the issue for Gordon, so it’s a bit inexplicable that it’s come to that.
“His arm went from 70 grade in high school to fringe-average for me,” Blessing said. He also added that at times Gordon can be a little mechanical coming in on balls, like his movement isn’t quite as fluid as one might like from a shortstop.
Now with that said, a lot of these concerns also applied to Jorge Polanco, whose 80-game suspension is the reason for the hole at shortstop in the first place. Blessing told Zone Coverage last year that Polanco had overtaken Gordon as his pick for shortstop in the long-term in Minnesota, though it had taken some time and work by the former to achieve that status.
Ultimately, it comes down to this: the Twins can’t wait forever for Sano to get back up to the big leagues. This is a team built to win right now, and it isn’t really doing that. It’s a good environment — clubhouse, and that sort of thing — to break in a big-time rookie, and it’s a good spot for a kid to come in and contribute without having the world asked of him.
And if it doesn’t work out, Polanco will be back in six weeks, Sano will be back at some point and Escobar can do whatever is asked of him in the interim.
It’s not like having too many infielders is really going to be a problem. The Twins can also send Gordon back so he doesn’t accrue enough time for service-time issues, though that really shouldn’t be an issue for a player of his skill set. Players like Ronald Acuna Jr. of the Braves — the five-tool guys who debut in their very, very early 20s — merit that kind of handling.
Gordon, who should carve out a career as a really good second baseman with potential for more, should play in the big leagues as soon as he’s ready to contribute and give the team more than what they presently have.
That time feels like now.