Is Miguel Sanó Still a Cornerstone Player For the Twins?

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez (USA TODAY Sports)

Of all the players who have had quizzical and at times frustrating starts to the season, arguably none present as much of a question mark as Miguel Sanó.

The Minnesota Twins signed Sanó in 2009 when he was thought to be the next superstar out of the Dominican Republic. Now in his seventh season in the majors, things have not been as smooth as the former generational prospect would have liked. He’s battled injuries and weight issues along with being relegated to first base and DH. But he’s also shown flashes of his true potential.

This includes his last seven games, where he has hit five home runs with a batting average of .333 and 11 RBI. The hot streak has been especially shocking, considering Sanó is hitting .176/.312/.418 for the season.

Sure, you can carry a mediocre batting average if you’re tearing the cover off the ball, but Sano hasn’t even been able to do that. He’s always been bailed out by advanced hitting metrics, but that hasn’t even been the case this season.

His strikeout and whiff percentages are both among the worst in the league. He does a great job of barreling up a ball, but his average exit velocity is, well, average, and his hard-hit percentage is not much better. To make matters worse, Sanó still can’t hit non-fastballs (.077 BA vs. breaking balls, .071 BA vs. off-speed). So as great as his run has been over the last couple of games, Sanó still has a lot to improve on if he is going to be a cornerstone for the Twins going forward.

Looking back at his recent run, he needs to improve his ability to hit for power. Sano has never hit above .270 in his career. Realistically, if he can hit around the .240 mark, that’s fine. But his power-hitting needs some level of consistency. For context, Sanó finished in the 100th percentile in average exit velocity in both 2019 and 2020. This season, he’s in the 48th percentile. While he’s only played 28 games this year, it’s enough of a sample size to be concerning.

A major reason for his shortcomings in that area is his poor performance against off-speed pitches. Sanó has never been proficient in those areas, but he has career lows in his hitting against those pitches in particular. As long as teams see that on the scouting report, they’ll continue to pummel him with junk.

So if Sanó wants to prove he can still be a big part of the team going forward, he will have to improve against pitches that aren’t fastballs. He doesn’t have to be a world-beater against them; he can’t allow pitchers to dominate him with off-speed pitches. If he can improve that, all of his metrics would likely see a pretty good boost. The chief concern is whether or not he’s hitting the ball hard. At this point in his career, Sanó is a far different player than the one fans and scouts projected him to be.

Long gone are the days of Sanó being a mainstay at third base or hitting close to a .300 average. Now Sanó would be best served filling the Nelson Cruz role once Cruz eventually retires (that is, if he ever ages). Ideally, he’d be someone who doesn’t have to play in the field, focusing solely on being a batter who is feared in the middle of the lineup.

If he can do that, he’s still got the opportunity to play a big part in Minnesota’s future. But he’s had time to show that, and he hasn’t shown much consistency. Expectations should be set based on his 2019 season when he hit 34 home runs and sported a .247 batting average. The Twins could slot that into the DH spot for years to come and be extremely successful. But if he can’t show signs of a resurgence, he can no longer be considered a franchise player. Sanó, 28, is under contract for next season and has a club option the following year, so Minnesota will have a decision to make on him sooner than later.

Disappointing doesn’t even begin to describe this season. At this point, it’s is about evaluating what some of these guys can bring to the table going forward. Who is part of the core group? There is a lot of attention being paid to Sanó right now, and if he doesn’t show consistency as the summer drags on, he might be punching his ticket out of Minnesota.

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