Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up and Coming Third Basemen: Part 2

We kicked off our examination of the AL Central's phenomenally impressive corps of talented young third basemen already with a look into Tigers top prospect Nick Castellanos, who's Jonathan Mayo had listed as his 10th best third base prospect in all of baseball. Moving on in our countdown we'll be looking at the next prospect on his list;

Miguel Sano

The Twins have never been big spenders. Not in free agency and not in the draft. They certainly hadn't been big spenders in international free agency either, where anyone can try to attract the best amateur talent possible for the biggest dollars. That changed in 2009 when they dropped some serious coin (3.15m) on Sano, widely considered the best Dominican positional prospect in years. He stayed on the board quite a bit longer than was anticipated as Major League Baseball conducted a lengthy review of his records to ensure he was as old as he claimed. The results came back positive and the Twins swooped in and stole him away from the Pirates who had been considered the front runners to sign Sano.

As I pointed out in my piece about Castellanos earlier, both he and the Twins Miguel Sano share certain similarities that will make them interesting to follow. They're similar in age - Sano will be 18 in 2011, Castellanos 19 - they're both right handed, and both feature similar tall, muscular builds and ooze talent from their pores. Sano however is ranked 5th on Mayo's list while Castellanos comes in just 10th. That's likely nothing more than a result of Sano having already completed a full season of Rookie Ball. What a season it was.

The Twins had Sano open the year with their Dominican team (a nice way to acclimate yourself to pro ball if you're a latin player) and he immediately clubbed his way to a 1.009 OPS. After just 20 games there, the team moved him up to their Gulf Coast affiliate and continued to perform well. In a league where the average age is over 19 and the average OPS is a meager .670, the 17 year old Sano posted an .810 OPS. Combined, his rookie ball performance was good for a .870 OPS. A very impressive showing for a kid who wouldn't yet be a senior in high school.

Like the Tigers Castellanos, Sano is the sort of player you can build your dreams on. He's the ideal size for a hitter. Tall enough and long enough at 6'3" to create good leverage in his swing, big enough at 195lbs to have power behind it, and svelte enough to be able to play the field without being plodding. Sano has the lightning quick hands and the raw power to project legitimate plus power, more-so even than Castellanos.

But where the Tigers prospect has the benefit of having played in significantly more live games, and against far better competition - Sano is a product of the Dominican Republic, and in the Dominican Republic, they do things differently. Players in the Dominican don't play the game so much as learn it. They drill incessantly. Time spent playing games in the United States is spent taking ground balls, strengthening arms, and on never ending hitting drills and cage time. Indeed, players play so few games that scouts will often have to arrange one just to see the prospect play.

In the short term that lack of game experience will likely slow Sano's rise with the Twins, a team obsessively focused on the fundamentals. Drafted as a shortstop Sano will almost certainly have to move off the position soon enough and the Twins already had him splitting time between short and third this year. Still, while the Twins ease Sano into third over the next year or two, there are already some questions about whether the young man will get too big even for that position and eventually end up as a first baseman or corner outfielder.

That of course will have to remain to be seen. For now, Sano possesses all the skills he'd need to be an average or above average third baseman. His range his good for third, and his arm has received high praise. Thankfully for both Sano and the Twins, the franchise also debuted Danny Valencia at third base last year. To be certain, Valencia is likely to be a fine player going forward, but the long-term vision has Sano manning that spot for a long time to come. Valencia's presence however will afford the team the luxury to move Sano along slowly and not rush him to the Majors as so many teams make the mistake of doing with young talent.

Ultimately we don't know what Sano will be. We don't know if this 17 year old will ever even suit up for a Major League team. But we do have an idea about what he could be, and that idea is tantalizing. The early returns are quite promising, and that's why he's so highly regarded. 2010 was the first in what will be a long line of stepping stones for the young Sano, it'll be fun to see him walk the path toward his dream.

Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both and He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog AL Central In Focus.

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