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Minnesota’s Big Bat in 2021 – Minnesota Twins – Articles

Josh Donaldson getting a clean bill of health and Mitch Garver returning to form are both keys for the 2021 Twins. What about Miguel Sano settling into his prime though in year two of his new contract?

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Prior to the 2020 Major League Baseball season the Minnesota Twins inked Sano to a three-year extension with a team option in 2023. He was being rewarded for a 2019 season that saw him post a .923 OPS and finally distance himself from the lazy take that his struggles were simply a reflection of being overweight. Committed to his craft and under the tutelage of Dominican mentor Nelson Cruz, Sano put it all together.

Fast forward to where we are now, and Sano is looking to turn the page on an otherwise forgettable year. Moving over to first base, Sano owned just a .757 OPS while striking out a league high 90 times. His 43.9% strikeout rate was otherworldly, and a substantial increase from his 37% career mark. He chased roughly 4% more often and increased his whiff rate 3% over his career averages. It was just a 53-game sample size but calling it unpleasant would be putting it lightly.

Enter a believer in the form of Fangraphs’ ZiPS. The projection system sees Sano slashing .233/.324/.528 and posting a 2.0 fWAR with 34 dingers. That jives with a year similar to what he experienced in 2019, and ZiPS sees the production over the course of just 119 games. Miguel has never played more than 116 during any single season in his career, but for the first time enters with zero health concerns and nothing holding him back. There’s no new position, he’s not fighting a virus, and there isn’t an achilles injury to recover from.

The Twins have contact hitters in the form of Andrelton Simmons and Luis Arraez. Miguel Sano will never be that. It’s also unfair to assume that the Twins first basemen is going to strike out in nearly 50% of his at bats. Looking back on his career when the dust settles, there’s a higher probability that 2020 ends up being an outlier than there is it representing the beginning of the end. Assuming that to be true, there’s some usable inputs from a season ago.

Miguel has always punished the baseball when making contact. He’s owned a 57% hard hit rate over the past two seasons, and his HR/FB ration has been above one-third in that time frame also. Last year his launch angle dipped ever so slightly, and his infield fly ball percentage jumped to double digits for the first time in his career. Only eight players in the majors saw at least 10.0 barrels per plate appearance, and Miguel was among them. His 95.2 mph exit velocity trailed only Fernando Tatis Jr. and he sat second in hard hit rate as well. In other words, contact was ferocious.

As Nelson Cruz fights off Father Time, it will be on someone else to carry the load for the Twins lineup. Seeing Sano take that on, and Cruz impart his wisdom on the mentee would be an outstanding development. Miguel has already harnessed the ability when bat meets ball, and the final piece of the puzzle comes in the form of consistency to create that desired outcome.

It’s foolish to believe that Miguel Sano is ever going to be more than a three true outcomes hitter but taking a walk or hitting a homer two-thirds of the time would make him among the most feared in the game. Despite being a known commodity for Twins fans over an entire decade now, the reality is that he’s just beginning to round into what should be considered his prime. A full season, no limitations, and some usable inputs from 2020 could turn 2021 into a truly special turning point in his career.

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