03/13/12 5:00 PM ET
Top prospect Sano set for first full season
Twins infielder to play for Class A Beloit in Midwest League
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
The buzz really started back in October 2009, when Sano chose the Twins among the many suitors for the then 16-year-old infielder. He experienced his first Spring Training the following March, but then got to toil in the relative obscurity of the Dominican Summer and Gulf Coast Leagues.
Last year, he stuck around in extended spring training, then went to Elizabethton in the short-season Appalachian League, his first full year in the United States. Now in his third spring in Fort Myers, Sano has a pretty good understanding of how things operate.
"Two years ago, when I first got here, it was my first experience," said Sano through translator Rafael Yanez, who teaches English to all of the Latino players in the Twins' system. "Now, I'm more used to it. It's very different between the Dominican Republic and the United States. I've been able to handle it pretty well with the help of people in the organization. I'm learning English. Two years ago, I didn't know anything. I don't speak it, but I understand more and I'm going into the season doing well."
The Twins want Sano, ranked as their top prospect and the No. 23 overall prospect on MLB.com's Top 100 this year, to be as well-equipped as possible as he prepares for a big leap in 2012. Once Spring Training is over, Sano should take his considerable skills to full-season ball for the first time, calling Class A Beloit and the Midwest League home.
"It's going to be a new adventure for him, to get into the grind of a full season and get into a weather situation that's going to be a test," Twins farm director Jim Rantz said. "He's never played in cold weather."
The climate, along with his continuing efforts to adjust culturally, seem to be a larger concern than how his baseball skills will translate. Sano will live with a host family in Beloit to help make that transition, and he knows his system will likely get some shock with the weather.
"I'm aware it's going to be different in Beloit," Sano said. "I'm a little worried about the weather, because I know it's going to be kind of cold there. I'm going to try to make the adjustment to the weather. I'm aware it's cold in Minnesota as well. It doesn't affect just the Latino players. It can affect everyone. I'm looking forward to adapting to the weather and [eventually] playing in Minnesota without any problems."
If his Appy League showing is any indication, he shouldn't have any trouble hitting his way up the ladder. His power is his obvious calling card, with Sano's 20 homers finishing second in the league only to fellow Twins prospect Eddie Rosario. Power, scouts will say, is often the last tool to come consistently in games, but for Sano it's already there.
"His offense is going to be there," Rantz said. "He's so strong, he likes to get into pulling, but he has enough to go the other way without trying to pull."
"I'm aware I have some power," Sano said modestly. "I don't think I will be able to hit 40-50 home runs. If I hit the ball well, I think I will hit some home runs. I don't think about hitting home runs. I'm just trying to do the best I can, and if the home runs come, that would be great."
The scary thing is that Sano may not be done growing yet. He already looks like a man amongst the boys in the back fields of the Twins' Spring Training facility. Originally signed as a shortstop, he's been working hard on transitioning full time to third. Some even think he'll end up at an outfield corner, though there certainly are no plans internally to make that switch now. He split time at short and third last year, and while the Twins let him get some work at shortstop, even he understands the hot corner will be his home.
"I'm trying to make the adjustment," Sano said. "The movements you do at shortstop are different than the ones you do at third base. Tom Kelly has been here and has been working closely with me and is helping me make the transition. I don't feel 100 percent comfortable right now, but I'm doing my best."
While life in the Minors can provide some comforting anonymity, Sano is one of those prospects who will likely always cause a stir when he's in town. Some of it comes from any time he steps in the batter's box, either in batting practice or in a game. He's the kind of hitter people stop to watch. Some of it precedes him as one of the biggest Dominican prospects who generated a good amount of attention when he signed for a very large bonus back in 2009.
As impressive as he's been with his bat, it's handling that spotlight that should really help Sano progress through the Twins' system. Rantz thinks that once he learns the language and feels more comfortable communicating, he could be a clubhouse leader. For now, his actions will speak louder than words and he'll continue to speak softly and carry a big stick. For Rantz, who's seen some of the best Twins hitting prospects come through his system over the years, it's the kind of bat that doesn't come around very often.
"I guess the potential is power, No. 1," Rantz said. "It's tough to find power. I don't think he's the hitter for average that some guys I've had coming through the organization have been, but power, he ranks right up there with anybody. You look at [Kirby] Puckett, [Kent] Hrbek and [Gary] Gaetti, he ranks right in with the top five guys that have come through [in terms of potential].
"Because there is so much hype, everybody knows about him. The average fan will know about him. All you have to do is look at the mail that comes in here and who it's for. I hope he's the face of the franchise in a couple of years. That would be nice, because that would mean he's arrived."