MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Given the green light to let his bat fly with a 3-0 count in the third inning of a game last month, Miguel Sano drove an inside fastball into the second deck above right-center field.
The announced estimate of 414 feet didn’t quite do that home run justice. Going that deep with an opposite-field swing was a feat of physical prowess that few players other than Minnesota’s massive third baseman could pull off.
“Nothing is difficult in life if you’re positive,” Sano said. “In your mind, you can do whatever you want. When you stay positive, everything is good.”
Attitude is helpful. Fortitude, too.
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“He’s someone at the plate you’re very mindful of every time he comes there, because you know something can happen,” said Chicago White Sox manager Rick Renteria, whose team was the witness to that homer the Twins were still talking about in the clubhouse the next morning.
Sano had a greater goal on his mind, though, with the Twins unexpectedly in the thick of the American League Central race.
“He whispers and he’s like, ‘Playoffs. Playoffs,'” second baseman Brian Dozier said. “A couple of years ago, he probably wouldn’t have said it. His body has changed and everything. He kind of gets it now.”
As with his weight, which has been around 270 pounds for much of his major league career, the 6-foot-4 Sano must also make sure to keep that stout swing under control to stay on a thriving path.
Major League Baseball’s postmodern embrace of science and data has paved the way for the Statcast tracking system and with it another set of leaderboards measuring the strongest sluggers, fastest runners and the hardest throwers to rival the traditional races for most home runs, stolen bases and strikeouts.
Sano, entering the weekend, trailed only New York Yankees rookie sensation Aaron Judge (97.3 mph) with an average exit velocity of 95.2 mph . The eye tests that have long concluded Sano consistently crushes the ball can now be proven with facts.
Analytics, though, aren’t the reason he’ll play in his first All-Star Game at age 24 on Tuesday in Miami with plenty of family members from his native Dominican Republic in attendance.
“The Statcast thing is the worst thing for him, the exit velocity and all that crap of how far you can hit it and stuff,” Dozier said. “If he just stays with what he’s been doing, so short and just smooth and really quieting everything down, he’s got the power to do the same stuff. That’s the biggest thing: slowing the game down. He’s done a phenomenal job at the plate of doing that. You look at his walks. You look at his on-base percentage. He’s going to hit his homers. He’s going to strike out. That’s what it is, but he’s more disciplined. He’s really, I would say, grown up in the baseball aspect of it.”
Sano led the Twins at their 85-game mark with 20 home runs, 61 RBIs, 51 runs and a .910 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, a formidable start that makes it easy to forget the majors-most 116 strikeouts through Thursday for a pace just short of the record set by Mark Reynolds with 223 in 2009.
What the Twins haven’t lost sight of, though, is the commitment Sano made to improve his conditioning and defense entering his third year in the majors. The failed experiment in right field last year set an inauspicious tone for the whole season, a discouraging setback from a rookie year that saw him win the team’s most valuable player award with a mere half-season of play.
This time, Sano was more determined to make a greater impact. He’s not exactly a Gold Glove Award candidate, but he has a reliably strong arm and a surprisingly agile body for its size.
“Work from 6 in the morning until 4 p.m. and then take a little break,” he said, proudly reflecting on his offseason regimen.
Count the player responsible for catching his throws at the opposite corner of the diamond impressed.
“I can definitely see him a little more relaxed and even improving on the defensive side, too,” first baseman Joe Mauer said.
That’s the way leadership is built, with a display of maturity.
“Nowadays I think a lot of people want a finished product right away, and that’s just not how it works, especially in this game,” Mauer said. “He’s one talented guy. I see why everybody’s so excited and was so excited a couple of years ago.
“I’ve seen him asking a lot of the right questions, that progression, and that’s fun for me to see.”
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