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John Shipley: Do the Twins still have a role, or the time, for Miguel Sano?

Trying to lock down the Central Division, the team is looking for quality at-bats, which hasn’t been Sano’s strong suit

sano.jpg Miguel Sano Twins
Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano (22) holds up on the throw to first base on April 26, 2018 to get New York Yankees right fielder Giancarlo Stanton (27) (not pictured) in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium in New York.
Noah K. Murray / USA Today Sports
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ST. PAUL — It’s the crossroads for Miguel Sanó and the Minnesota Twins, who resume their season Saturday in Detroit sitting atop the American League Central. But the Twins can use help to nail down the division, and if Sanó wants to help he needs to get his rear in gear.

Otherwise, the team’s former No. 1 prospect will be watching the rest of the season mostly from the bench, or farther.

On a rehab assignment since July 4, Sanó has played five games at low-A Fort Myers and five with Triple-A St. Paul, where he’s hitting .313 with two home runs, seven RBIs and seven strikeouts in five games.

That’s good because the Twins organization, from top to bottom, is all about quality at-bats, and before tearing the meniscus in his left knee after his single started a walk-off victory over Detroit on April 26, Sano had very few of them. Before being placed on the 10-day IL — and later transferred to the 60-day — he was hitting .097 with one home run, three RBIs and 21 strikeouts in 17 games.

Asked last week what the Twins wanted to see from Sano while he rehabs in St. Paul, manager Rocco Baldelli said, “I would say more at-bats.”

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Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano. Jasen Vinlove / USA TODAY Sports
Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano.
Jasen Vinlove / USA Today Sports

Production would be nice, too, Baldelli added, and Sanó has only two games before his rehab window closes after Saturday to embellish his stats. So far between Fort Myers and St. Paul, he’s hitting .313 with four homers, nine RBIs, four walks and eight strikeouts in 10 games.

For context, Alex Kirilloff hit .359 with 10 home runs and 32 RBIs in 35 games while working through a wrist issue with the Saints this season. Last year, Byron Buxton destroyed Triple-A pitching, hitting .409 with three homers and nine RBIs in seven games while rehabbing from a hip strain.

There’s no doubt the Twins would be tickled if Sanó could do something similar. They’re expected to be active ahead of the Aug. 2 trade deadline all in on a team that has held a piece of first place for all but one day since April 24. As well as featuring the all-world shortstop Carlos Correa for perhaps his only season in Minnesota — and adding a productive Sanó just by activating him would be a windfall.

Since his exit, Sanó’s spots have been ably filled. The guy manning first base, Luis Arraez, just went 1 for 2 in his first All-Star Game and leads the majors with a .343 batting average. The guys manning his previous position, third base — Gio Urshela and Jose Miranda — have been better defensively and offensively. It’s difficult to see Sanó sliding into anything but a role as a pinch-hitter and occasional designated hitter when all-star Byron Buxton isn’t playing center field.

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That doesn’t exactly make him a problem — the Twins have players on the 40-man roster they can safely jettison when Sanó is activated from the 60-day injured list — but if he’s the same guy he was in April, he’ll serve little purpose.

Only 29, Sanó has world-class power and has proven he can produce at the major-league level, hitting .264 with 28 homers and 77 RBIs in his one all-star season in 2017. Since then, however, he has been a different player, injury prone and batting .218 with 568 strikeouts in 381 games. That won’t interest many teams this offseason, his first as a free agent.

Certainly the Twins wouldn’t show much interest. Since signing a three-year, $30 million extension before the 2020 season, Sanó has led the majors in strikeouts with 90 in 53 games of the abbreviated COVID season, and ranked sixth with 183 in 135 games in 20201.

After a 12-2 loss to the White Sox last Friday, Baldelli was asked what the Twins needed to do better.

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“It’s (about) winning at-bats,” he said. “We’re winning a lot of them, ones we want, and when it comes down to it, the games we’ve lost are being decided on individual swings and individual at-bats.”

If Sanó can’t meet that obligation, his Minnesota days are numbered.

“He can use as many (minor league) at-bats as he can possibly get right now,” Baldelli said last Saturday. “That would be what I would focus on.”

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This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

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