Twins

Miguel Sanó Has An Opportunity To Get Back On Track

Photo Credit: Gary Rohman (USA TODAY Sports)

Miguel Sanó has been one of the most publicly criticized players on the Minnesota Twins, and the first baseman is having the worst season of his career with a minus-0.6 fWAR, 16 home runs, and a .300 wOBA. His fWAR this year is over a full win down from last year (0.5) when he had a career-high strikeout percentage of 43.9 percent. Sanó has meaningfully regressed from the player he was in 2019 when he had a 2.7 fWAR and 34 home runs.

The former top prospect has become one of the most criticized Twins players over the last few years, and his high strikeout percentage has become a lightning rod for criticism. When Sanó gets ahold of a pitch, the ball makes a singular sound when it leaves his bat but the problem is he’s not making regular contact. He has brought his strikeout rate back down to around his career average this season with a 37.1 percent rate, but it still is well above the league-average 24 percent mark.

Sanó’s struggles have left many fans, and presumably Twins leadership, questioning his long-term future on the team. He is under contract for next season and has a $2.75 million buyout for 2023, so Sanó still isn’t going anywhere. And despite the wishes of certain fans, there isn’t exactly a booming trade market for him and Minnesota isn’t going to just cut him.

The 2017 All-Star saw his starts decline towards the middle of the season when rookie Alex Kirilloff came into his own. Sanó has logged 65 starts at first, but the Twins appeared to trust Kirilloff, who made 29 starts at first after spending most of the first half of the season in the outfield. Sanó also played eight games at third and five as the designated hitter. With Josh Donaldson’s stranglehold over the hot corner and Nelson Cruz locked in as the team’s DH and team leader before he was traded, playing time was looking tough to come by. Sanó all of a sudden found himself in a platoon role with Minnesota’s playoff hopes dwindling.

It looked like he was going to see limited playing time for a while until last week when circumstances put Sanó back into everyday playing time. Kirilloff had been taking time away from Sanó at first base but a wrist injury meant the rookie needed season-ending surgery. Cruz had been one of Minnesota’s best hitters but was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for two Triple-A pitching prospects last week.

All of a sudden a crowded line for at-bats disappeared. The only other players with experience at first base on the roster are Brent Rooker and Willians Astudillo, so Sanó now has a perfect opportunity to make the most of the situation. The right-handed hitter has no threat of losing his job and will go back to playing every day at first base for what looks like the remainder of the season.

So how does he make the most of it?

As mentioned earlier, Sanó’s strikeouts have gone down, so why has he been so unproductive this season? Part of that is Sanó hasn’t been drawing as many walks as he did before 2019, when his walk percentage always hovered above 10 percent, including a career-high 12.5 percent in 2019. Currently, that number sits at just 9.8 percent. Sanó’s outcomes had been home run, walk, or strikeout and fewer walks has meant that the vacuum has been filled with more punchouts.

A positive sign for Sanó? His hard-hit numbers are still high. His 15.9 barrel and 53 hard-hit percentages were in the top six percent in all of baseball. His BB/K rate went from 0.35 in 2019 to 0.26 in 2021. But when Sanó has made contact this season, it has been underwhelming with a career-low .257 BABIP.

There’s no doubt Sanó has been hot and cold throughout the season, but his power can still be impactful to the Twins, even if it’s inconsistent.

After a slow start to the season, Sanó got red-hot from mid to late May. His bat came alive, and he hit seven home runs, drove in 17 RBIs, and recorded a .587 slugging percentage in 69 plate appearances. But Sanó is also currently in the middle of a stretch where he’s only hit one home run over the last month and a .388 slugging percentage over his last 70 plate appearances. A positive stat from that rough stretch? His strikeout rate over that time was decreasing to 32 percent.

Part of his struggles can be attributed to inconsistent playing time. But now Sanó is going to get some time to exercise his demons at the plate without the threat of someone taking his spot. And more at-bats can allow his cold and hot stretches time to even out and help reveal what kind of hitter he’ll be going forward.

Extra plate appearances won’t fix every issue that has plagued Sanó this season. But it will go a long way to helping the Twins decide if he can still be a big piece for this team going forward. However, that won’t exactly be an easy task. The Twins currently have the second-hardest schedule for the remainder of the season according to tankathon.com.

Love him or love to hate him, Sanó hasn’t been able to find success this season. The Twins may have shown their hand a bit on him, given that they limited his at-bats when Kirilloff was healthy. Now he has an avenue to take advantage and show management that he can still be the impact bat he’s shown the potential to be as they continue to re-evaluate every player on the roster for the rest of the season.

It’s up to Sanó to take advantage of the opportunity in front of him.

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