Twins’ demotion of Miguel Sano part of ‘holistic’ plan to reboot all-star third baseman
DETROIT — For Miguel Sano, it’s spring training redux served with a giant slice of humble pie.
The Twins on Thursday banished their struggling all-star third baseman all the way down to Single-A Fort Myers, where the brass hopes grinding away under the hot Florida sun and the scrutinizing eyes of several hitting instructors and trainers will help Sano reboot a regressing career.
Sano, who was not in the lineup for another lackluster 3-1 loss to the Tigers, was circumspect about the deep demotion, which he learned about from manager Paul Molitor as the Twins packed for their short trip for a weekend series in Cleveland.
He vowed to use the time to re-calibrate a once-powerful swing that has been throttled since he returned May 25 from a hamstring injury.
“It’s the decision they take and I take too,” said Sano, 25. “I’m not mad. They gave me an opportunity. No reason I can get mad.”
Last year, Sano seemed to be on pace to become the middle-of-the-order basher the Twins envisioned when signing the 16-year-old phenom out of the Dominican Republic, hitting .264 with 28 home runs and 77 RBIs in 114 games before a shin injury ended his 2017 season.
This year, Sano is hitting .203/.270/.405 with seven home runs, 27 RBIs and a team-high 66 strikeouts (40.5 percent whiff rate) in 37 games. His inability to recognize pitches and make the proper adjustments prompted Molitor to move him down to seventh in the order last week.
“We have his best interests in mind,” Molitor said. “We don’t feel right now we’re getting what we need to from him, and he’s going to have to go down there and get to work.”
The Twins had to clear roster space to accommodate the return of first baseman Joe Mauer, who is scheduled to rejoin the team in Cleveland after being sidelined almost a month because of concussion symptoms. They also optioned outfielder Jake Cave to Triple-A Rochester and will make another roster move Friday before the start of their three-game series against the Indians.
Chief baseball officer Derek Falvey characterized the demotion as Sano’s chance to concentrate on strength and conditioning and retool his batting stroke at the Twins’ sprawling training facility.
“We’re not going to follow the traditional view, just go get at-bats at Triple-A,” Falvey said. “We wanted to take a step back and blank-canvas this a bit and say, ‘What do we think the best next steps are for him?’ It’s a holistic plan. We felt like that was the most supportive environment for what we’re trying to achieve.”
Injuries have plagued Sano since he debuted as a 22-year-old late in the 2015 season to mostly fill a designated hitter role. He finished .269/.385/.530 with 18 home runs in just 335 plate appearances, allowing the Twins to part ways with veteran third baseman Trevor Plouffe the following offseason.
Sano missed a year playing third base in the minor leagues after having Tommy John surgery. A strained hamstring cost him 24 games this season. Last August, he fouled a ball off his shin, causing a stress reaction that kept him out of the wild card game despite furious efforts to rehabilitate him for Minnesota’s brief postseason appearance.
That injury ultimately required offseason surgery.
Falvey said conditioning is “definitely a part of” this move.
“He did a good job post-surgery prepping through spring training,” Falvey said. “I think we thought early on in the season he was in a good place. Then he deals with the hamstring issue and it’s another setback to some degree.
“He’s healthy. He’s come back. He’s at a stage where that’s not the issue, but now we need to maybe take that step to say let’s start as if we were beginning the season fresh again and address things that (hitting coach) James (Rowson) and the hitting guys feel are important and at the same time address some things physically to get him strong in his lower half.”
Sano was asked whether his recent injuries have hampered him.
“It could be; it could not be. I’m not counting on that. I’m not putting excuses out there,” he said. “They’re making that decision and I’m going to take pride of going down there and working hard so I can come back and be better.”
Sano is only one of several Twins hitters flailing at the plate. Their .232 average ranks 21st in the major leagues; run production 23rd.
Eddie Rosario is the only everyday player hitting over .300. Injuries have limited Sano and Mauer, while shortstop Jorge Polanco is still more than two weeks away from returning from his steroid suspension.
“I think he respects it,” Molitor said of Sano’s demotion. “I believe he’ll take it to heart. And now it’s going to be time for some ownership on his part, to go about it the right way, and I believe that he will.”