Last week I said that Byron Buxton was the headliner at Twins instructs due to being the consensus top talent in the recent draft. Unfortunately, Buxton was overmatched at times against advanced competition so the most entertaining Twins prospect to watch was Miguel Sano. Sano has had plenty of fanfare himself after he signed for $3.15 million as a 16-year-old in 2009 after highly contentious negotiations with the Pirates. This drama and the Dominican amateur baseball system as a whole were covered in the documentary Pelotero
Sano had an up and down full season this year in Low-A Beloit, hitting .258/.373/.521 with a 14.5% walk rate and 26.0% strikeout rate. Strikeouts and contact were issues all season, but Sano was also 18 years old at the start of the season. What I saw in instructs jives pretty well with the stat line and what I’ve seen of Sano in the past. I was also reminded of his upside from one swing: a two-strike fastball up and in that he hit halfway up the batter’s eye.
His power is an easy 80, stemming from obscene raw strength, very good bat speed and the torque, loft and high finish you expect from big boppers. The thing he does that sets him apart from other sluggers is he keeps his hands pretty low throughout his setup and Sano also doesn’t have a pronounced load. Most hitters have to do both things to create power and give away some contact ability, but Sano doesn’t need to and that’s why he has a chance to be the rare high-average cleanup hitter.
The problem is that Sano gets pull conscious and eager; often out on his front foot. He’s learned to lay off the breaking ball in the dirt and pitches well out of the zone but he needs to ratchet down his aggression and let the game come to him more. His balanced, quiet yet powerful swing looks a lot like the swings of players Sano could one day be: Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.
I’ll be interested to watch Sano in the High-A this season to see if his swing and miss troubles are mental (poor choices about approach and pitch selection) or physical (pitch recognition issues, swing breaks down), but I think a good bit of it is mental. This means it can be overcome and he’s young enough to do it, but I think there’s enough pitch recognition problems that I’m not projecting super stardom as his hitting tools might suggest.
Using the three hit tool criteria, Sano is top of the scale in tools, well above average in bat control and below average in plate discipline, with some room for the last one to improve. Much like with Cubs tools monster Javier Baez late in 2012, the Florida State League may be advanced enough to give Sano fits in 2013 and force some changes that may benefit him greatly going forward.
Sano’s 6’3, 235 pound frame is still growing but is without shouting distance of what he’ll look like in the big leagues. His hands are okay, but his feet are just not quick enough to play third base. Sano is a below average runner that’s a little better underway and right field or first base look like his positional possibilities. Right field will expose his slow first step more but allow his plus arm to play while first base does the opposite.
Some of Sano’s defensive troubles in 2012 were due to focus issues, which he should grow out of with maturity. This also gives some hope to an immature offensive approach improving as well. From what I’ve seen, I’m comfortable projecting Sano to have an above average hit tool and on-base with 30 homers annually and fringy defense in right field. There’s obviously time for that projection to change with more looks and I should be seeing him a lot in 2013.
In the 4th round of the recent draft, the Twins took hard-throwing righty reliever Zachary Jones out of San Jose State. He signed for slot (just over $350,000), I saw him throw two innings and it’s pretty obvious what his best tool is.
Jones sat 95-98 mph for two innings with a pretty straight four-seam fastball coming from a high effort delivery. His location was acceptable for the kind of velocity he brings, but is below average and will likely never be better than fringy. Jones creates this velocity out of an average 6’1, 185 pound frame with a quick tempo, late hand break, short arm circle and an off-center delivery aimed at the left-handed batter’s box.
Jones stays tall and keeps his weight back while he swings his lead leg out and his arm drags behind before landing with a locked knee and his head down before abruptly popping his body upright. There’s also a head whack, not a lot of plane from his high three quarters slot and a very low, loose glove hand that isn’t helping his command. Last but not least, Jones has an abbreviated arm action: instead of his arm taking a full circle behind him, his arm goes from the bottom of the arc straight up behind his head before release. This creates deception by hiding the ball but it isn’t a clean arm action.
A plus-plus heater is a good place to start and Jones backed it up with a 73-78 mph curveball that was very inconsistent. Early on, it was in the lower end of the range and below average. Toward the end of his outing it was at the top of that range and flashed average potential with ¾ tilt, occasional bite and better location when he stayed on top of it. There wasn’t a lot of feel for spinning the ball in general as Jones would get under the curve and float it to the plate, but scouts told me Jones normally threw a crisper slider in college and he was trying to see if he could develop a usable curveball. If there is an above average breaking pitch down the road, Jones has a chance to be a useful big league reliever, but he recently turned 22 and will need to move quickly given his high effort delivery.
Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.