Less than one year ago, Twins slugger Miguel Sano was busy bonking baseballs out of the yard and looking like one of the best young sluggers in the league. He hit .276/.368/.538 to go along with 21 homers in the first half of 2017, which was good enough to make him an All-Star for the first time at age 24. Things haven’t gone so well since then, and today Sano will be suiting up for the Twins’ Single-A affiliate. The Twins did not send him there on a rehab assignment, exactly. He’s there to reset ... everything, hopefully. How the hell does a guy go from the All-Star game to just about the lowest rung on the organizational ladder in less than a year?
The answer starts with some very bad numbers. Since making the All-Star game last season, Sano has hit .218/.289/.417, with 14 home runs. Some of that can be blamed on the fact that his second half of last season was cut short by an August injury that required a titanium rod to be inserted into his leg, but things have only gotten worse this year. Sano has made 163 plate appearances and is hitting .203/.270./405. He’s already struck out 66 times, which is at the highest boundary of what’s expected given what a free swinger he is, but his walk rate has dropped from 11.2 percent in 2017 to 8.6 percent this year. That’s a lot of outs. He’s also only hit seven homers, making him a Three True Outcomes guy who is only really producing the Bad Outcome.
But why all the way down to Single-A? Baseball has seen plenty of guys with track records both better and worse than Sano’s get optioned after a lengthy slump, but teams generally do established big-leaguers the kindness of dropping them down to Triple-A for a few weeks to feast on overmatched pitchers an regain some confidence. Something about sending a young former All-Star down to Single-A feels more punitive than therapeutic.
Twins manager Paul Molitor didn’t reveal too much while announcing the move after last night’s game, but did answer a question about why Single-A was the chosen destination:
Just overall picture of all the things that he needs to do to be the guy that we think he can be.
“Overall picture” sounds like the Twins think Sano needs to work on more than just his batting eye, and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey echoed that sentiment when he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “We can do a lot of things with the facility we have there, around strength and conditioning and the work you can do from that side.”
Sano’s conditioning has always been a background issue during his tenure in Minnesota, and if that’s what the Twins really believe is holding Sano back, the logic behind the dramatic demotion scans a bit more clearly. The actual baseball Sano will be playing at that level will be entirely incidental, leaving him plenty of time and energy to focus on getting his body in proper shape.
Still, there has to be some risk here, most notably in the potential that the move could do some longterm damage to the confidence of a guy who should be a franchise cornerstone. Even if we assume that Sano has the sort of near-pathological confidence of most elite athletes, it can’t be easy to process your employer saying, “we’re banishing you to the hinterlands until you can get yourself together and lose some weight.” For his part, Sano is at least saying all the right things:
We’ll see how he feels after a few weeks of bumming around Fort Myers.