Friday, November 6, 2015

Sano In The Outfield? Get Ready To Juggle

In 2015, the Minnesota Twins finally unleashed their hulking prospect from the Dominican Republic. Signed what seems like ages ago, the 22 year-old took the big leagues by storm. He swatted 18 homers in just 80 games, and pulverized plenty of pitchers. Heading into 2016 though, he's a man without a position, and his next stop could be in the outfield.

Following Torii Hunter's farewell press conference, media touched base with both Terry Ryan and Paul Molitor. In speaking with Molitor, we learned that the Twins have asked Sano to play some outfield during winter league play, and that option is being explored heading into 2016. With Trevor Plouffe slated to man the hot corner (barring a trade), Molitor is determined to get Sano into the outfield another way.

As things stand currently, the Twins most logical outfield configuration to start the season would be Oswaldo Arcia in left, Aaron Hicks in center, and Eddie Rosario in right. Byron Buxton seems destined to begin the year at Triple-A Rochester. So, putting Sano into the mix, the outfield likely becomes Sano, Hicks, and Rosario from left to right. Although that gets his bat into the lineup, it creates some other obstacles for Minnesota.

First and foremost, let's take into consideration that a 6'4" 260 pound human being would be out in left. Sano is a heck of an athlete, but he's played all of 83 innings in the field at the big league level (all coming in the infield). In fact, since the age of 17 when he debuted in the Twins organization, he's never played anything but third, first, or short. In each of those roles, he's been considered passable defensively at best, with a body best suited stationary at first base. To say Sano would fail as a left fielder is probably short-sighted, but expecting much more than Oswaldo Arcia's -5 DRS (defensive runs saved) average would be a long shot.

That brings us to the aforementioned Arcia. The Venezuelan slugger had nothing short of a wasted 2015. He was quickly demoted, and despite a home run tear over the summer, he failed to hit over the Mendoza Line at Triple-A Rochester. He's out of options, and there's no way he'd pass through waivers. Unless he's going to be given the keys to the designated hitter role (which could work), he's out in the cold. The Twins could definitely trade him this offseason (and they should be looking), but they'd be selling low.

Aside from the two big guys, the focus then needs to turn to the actual outfielders themselves. Aaron Hicks is really the only one that doesn't need mentioning in this situation. He's got a role going forward, and he profiles well despite the roster shuffles in the grass. However, Eddie Rosario and Max Kepler now both have questions of their own.

Rosario burst onto the scene last season for the Twins and garnered some Rookie of the Year talk. Slashing .267/.289/.459 with 13 homers and 60 runs batted in, Rosario was an offensive asset. In the field though, he was a menace to the opposition. He posted a 10 DRS mark and contributed 16 outfield assists. So how do you reward him for that production? Honestly, I'd be looking to trade him (for the right price).

For everything Rosario does well defensively, we may just have seen him at his offensive best. The slash line should provide some reason for concern. Getting on base at just a .289 clip is not good. Rosario drew just 15 walks in 2015, while striking out 118 times (roughly 25% of his at bats). Pitchers loved facing Rosario as they garnered swinging strikes at pitches outside of the zone a ridiculous 46% of the time. Really, the biggest number working to stave off Rosario's plate discipline issues was the fact that he batted .332 on balls in play.

If the Twins choose to keep Rosario going forward, he's going to have to battle significantly better at the plate to be more than a defensive replacement. He's an asset, but in a crowded outfield situation, he may be the one to deal.

Then there's Kepler, the Twins minor league hitter of the year and Southern League MVP. Sure, there's reason to be skeptical that a .322/.416/.531 Double-A slash line translates to the big leagues, but this kid looks special. An adept centerfielder, Kepler can play all three outfield positions. Probably most likely at the big league level is in left, and now he's looking at some newly introduced competition.

From a top down view, Minnesota currently has to include Aaron Hicks, Eddie Rosario, and Oswaldo Arcia in the outfield. That doesn't take into consideration Byron Buxton should be up quickly, Max Kepler needs a spot, and Miguel Sano seems to be transitioning there from the start. Also of note, the Twins have interested in bringing Shane Robinson back in 2016 (as a 5th outfielder, which would make a good bit of sense). So in total, that's seven outfielders for three spots.

Going forward, Molitor and the Twins know that they'll be including Buxton and Sano in their long term plans. Hicks fits based on present value, perceived future value, and (likely) lack of trade value. That leaves Rosario, Arcia, and Kepler out in the cold to a certain extent. Should the Twins find a good trade partner this winter, I'd look to deal from those three players in that order. Kepler should be near untouchable, with both Rosario and Arcia having the Twins motivated to be entertained.

At the end of the day, it appears that Sano is going to be playing the field at all costs. A Trevor Plouffe trade could make that at third base, but regardless, the Twins have plenty of assets ready to blossom, and some of them should be used to advance the big league roster.