Miguel Sano was once touted as a generational prospect. With enough power to hit 113 home runs in the minor leagues, Sano was expected to bash his way into becoming one of the greatest hitters in Twins history.
As Sano enters his seventh major league season, that hasn’t happened. While he made his first All-Star appearance in 2017, he has had his share of struggles since, including being sent down to Low-A Fort Myers the following season.
This up-and-down nature has typified Sano throughout his career. His struggles a year ago normally would have created a long list of storylines heading into this season. But it’s also possible that the Twins have accepted Sano for what he is.
Over the past two seasons, he has hit 47 home runs, which ranks second on the team behind Nelson Cruz. And in 2019, Sano hit .247/.346/.576 with 34 HR and 79 RBI despite missing the first two months of the season and received an extension. But he hasn’t played well consistently since then.
Last year Sano struck out an MLB-high 90 times in 205 plate appearance — a 43 percent punch-out rate — and slashed .204/.278/.478. Sano has always been a high-strikeout player, but the magnitude of his strikeouts has become the norm.
According to FanGraphs, Sano has chased 27.5% of pitches that were out of the zone over the course of his career. While that number rose to a career-high 31% last season, it wasn’t a number that made anyone think something was wrong.
If anything, Sano was more aggressive than ever. He logged a 47.3% overall swing rate, the second-highest of his career behind the 48.6% he posted during his All-Star campaign in 2017. While his swinging rate went up, his penchant for drawing walks went down. Sano has recorded an 11.8% walk rate during his career, but that number dropped to 8.7% in 2020.
This would be a major issue in the late-2010s when Sano was required to be in the middle of the lineup, but Sano has benefitted from the protection Cruz and Josh Donaldson provide.
Sano and Byron Buxton were once considered the Glimmer Twins, players who would rescue the franchise from its doldrums. The fact that neither player has become Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, as Sports Illustrated once projected them to be, takes some pressure off of Sano. Buxton was also destined for greatness but hasn’t reached his full potential. Much like Sano, he has battled through ineffectiveness and injury, which has landed him on the front page of Twins blogs since his debut.
The main difference between the two players is that Buxton has shown he can evolve. Over the past two seasons, Buxton has seen his slugging percentage jump by 134 points over his career slugging percentage of .430 and is starting to show a more refined approach at the plate.
In addition to Buxton’s approach, he has also remained an elite defender in the field, which we can’t say for Sano. This performance has helped the Twins produce an 88-38 record with Buxton in the lineup the past two seasons. It’s also why something as simple as a chipped tooth could send the Twins fan base up in arms.
Although Buxton has had his fair share of injuries, many of them seem preventable if he stops running into walls and over pursuing highlight-reel catches at the risk of his own health. That’s why the Twins are in discussions with Buxton on his own contract extension that could be much higher than Sano’s three-year, $30 million contract signed last offseason.
It’s possible that Sano could rebound and have another season that makes us think about his potential. But until Sano produces up to that potential for a prolonged period of time, we may have to accept this is just the player that he is.