Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sano Is Fooling Someone

Prior to the 2016 Major League Baseball season, the Minnesota Twins made the commitment to Miguel Sano in right field. In keeping Trevor Plouffe, the club kept together what projected to be a strong offense, and forced Sano to learn a new position. There's been some hiccups in the process (as expected), but what's interesting is the belief that this wasn't a possible scenario all along.

Just a handful of games into the season, the Twins tender of the hot corner, Trevor Plouffe, hit the disabled list with an intercostal strain. The club called up infielder Jorge Polanco to replace him on the 25 man roster, but it was Sano and Eddie Rosario who fielded some pre-game grounders for Paul Molitor's squad. Pictures circulated on the interwebs, and the question quickly became whether or not Sano would move back to third base at least in the short term.

The simple answer is almost unquestionably no. Paul Molitor and Terry Ryan have both harped on being committed to the development of Sano in right field. Outside of some extreme set of circumstances, the hulking Dominican is nowhere near their radar to play third base. This seems to draw the ire of some in the fan base, but the problem is, should it?

First of all, let's remember that Sano is a ballplayer pushing 280 pounds. Sure, a lot of that is muscle, but it doesn't negate the fact that he's a very large human being. Now we're all more than well aware that Sano came through the Twins system as a third basemen (after being signed as a shortstop), but there were always significant questions as to whether he'd stick there at the big league level. Comparing him to his peers, it's not hard to see he's an outlier.

Forget looking at the best defensive third basemen, Sano almost assuredly would not be in that category. Comparing the Twin to a group of big league third basemen who posted between 4 and -6 defensive runs saved at third base last season (a total of eight players), not one is heavier than David Freese's 225 pounds. Freese has played third in the big leagues for the entirety of his career, having posted a 2 DRS for a career high, and a -14 DRS as a career low.

Then there's comparing Sano to teammate Trevor Plouffe. Both had the minor league career arc of being shifted from shortstop to third base. Plouffe failed at short and was moved, while Sano was almost immediately deemed too big for the role. Plouffe posted just 13 errors in 78 career minor league games, or a 26.9 per 162 game average. On the other hand, Sano has totaled 112 errors over the course of 326 starts at third base, or a 55.6 per 162 game average. That only begins to highlight where Sano may have experienced some significant struggles at the next level.

Coming off of Tommy John surgery as a position player, Sano's arm was generally expected to respond well. The stress for a third basemen isn't nearly what it is for a pitcher, and Sano has shown he still has a cannon during his time in right field for the Twins. What the question always was for him related to his glove and lateral agility at the hot corner.

At the present time, we're allowed an almost exact level of comparison between Sano in right and at third base in the big leagues. During the 2015 season, he played a total of 77 innings at third turning in a -1 DRS and a 0.7 ultimate zone rating. In right field during 2016, he's played 79.2 innings owning a -4 DRS and a -0.1 UZR. We're really at a place of splitting hairs.

Sano's deficiencies in right field have been generally linked to his uncertainty as to how to attack a batted baseball. Whether it be an ill timed dive, or a poor route, there struggles he's going through are largely related to learning how to adjust to new ball trajectories on the fly (no pun intended). That said, his athleticism has adept enough in allowing him to complete the plays he absolutely should make.

Where we're currently at is a position in which the Twins employed the best case scenario in regards to Sano. It's probably more than false hope to suggest or believe that he was going to be a capable big league third basemen defensively. Almost by body size alone, he's destined for a designated hitter or first base role. The former isn't a sentence you'd like to present to a 22 year old, and the latter is currently occupied by one of the best hitters in baseball.

Long term, Miguel Sano probably shouldn't play right field forever. Expecting him to capably hold down the role while mashing opposing pitching and getting contributions from both Plouffe and Mauer is a sensible approach however. With Plouffe out of the picture for the time being, Sano continues to be a better fit for the greater good of Minnesota in right, and it really doesn't matter that his position on the farm may say otherwise.

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