Tutelage from Hunter on tap for newly converted OF Sano
MINNEAPOLIS - Torii Hunter already knows the first piece of advice he will give Miguel Sano when he huddles with the converted outfielder in Fort Myers, Fla., next month."Don't panic," the newly minted Minnesota Twins special instructor plans to ...
MINNEAPOLIS – Torii Hunter already knows the first piece of advice he will give Miguel Sano when he huddles with the converted outfielder in Fort Myers, Fla., next month.
“Don’t panic,” the newly minted Minnesota Twins special instructor plans to tell his unlikely successor in right field.
That might serve as a good reminder for Twins fans in general as the 22-year-old slugger embarks on a need-based transition that is curious at best and widely doubted at worst.
“Torii’s a great guy - as a teammate, as a person,” Sano said Friday. “I’m so glad to have Torii Hunter working with me. It’s awesome.”
Asked if Hunter might even teach him how to scale walls to rob home runs, Sano smiled.
“That’s the fun part,” he said. “I tried, but the wall hit me.”
Here, Sano slapped his forehead with a meaty right hand and laughed.
Yes, there will be a learning curve.
After ending his Dominican Winter League stint after just 15 games in early December, Sano spent several weeks working with San Francisco Giants right-hander Johnny Cueto and several minor leaguers. Twins first-base coach Butch Davis, who also handles the team’s outfielders, made a two-week visit to the Dominican to work with Sano, as did minor-league strength-and-conditioning coordinator Erik Beiser.
Sano would start his daily workouts at 6 a.m., pushing himself through conditioning drills until 10. From there, he’d chase fly balls for a couple of hours.
After lunch, he’d head back to the field for batting practice. He wouldn’t stop until he’d put in at least six hours every day.
“I’ve been working hard,” Sano said.
After ending last season at 268 pounds, according to the Twins, the 6-foot-3 Sano said he had been able to shed five pounds to get to 263. Ideally, the Twins would like to see him a few pounds lighter, but that’s what spring training is for.
Camp Torii awaits.
“That’s probably one of the reasons that I’m going,” Hunter said. “He’s never tried it. It’s going to be different. He’s going to have to put in a lot of work.”
Signed at 16 as a shortstop, Sano has taken fly balls during batting practice but said he has spent one inning in right field during his pro career. That was in 2010 in the Dominican Summer League, and it wasn’t even an official game.
“You’re going to have to be patient with him,” Hunter said. “I think in due time, even though he has a big body, he’s a pretty good athlete. I definitely think he’ll be OK once he gets some instruction.”
Starting Feb. 26, when Hunter begins his 10-day stint as an instructor, Sano will no doubt shadow the man he calls “brother-father” and hang onto Hunter’s every word. The nine-time Gold Glove Award winner believes right field is the better spot for Sano than left field, especially considering he plays half his games at Target Field.
“In this place, I definitely think right field will be easier because of the (high) wall,” Hunter said. “If the ball is hit over his head, he’ll just play it off the wall. I think you need to be more athletic over there (in left) so you can jump up and rob home runs.”
Twins general manager Terry Ryan is trying to be optimistic along with the rest of the team’s braintrust.
“Once he gets comfortable, I suspect he’ll be fine,” Ryan said.
Asked how good Sano might be in right, Ryan was noncommittal.
“Well, I don’t know,” he said. “I’d like to gauge to see exactly. I want to see what kind of release he has, the accuracy of his arm, the jumps he gets, the angles he takes. Those are the types of things that ultimately will dictate how good he can be.”
As for those who would doubt the wisdom of moving such a big-bodied hitting prodigy, especially after his hamstring blew out on him with six weeks to go in his rookie season, Ryan suggested pragmatism played the biggest role.
“You know, he used to be a shortstop,” he said. “That was quite a while ago, but it’s what we’re doing. The reason we’re doing this is because this guy is athletic and we know he can really throw and he’s a surprisingly good runner. That kind of equates into an outfield skill set, so we’re going to give this an opportunity.”
Rather than move Joe Mauer for the second time in three seasons or deal third baseman Trevor Plouffe, who got a raise to $7.25 million via salary arbitration, the Twins opted to move Sano into the outfield. Ryan said Friday the Twins never made Plouffe available for trade this winter.
While collecting a pair of trophies as Twins 2015 MVP and top rookie at Thursday’s Diamond Awards, Sano delighted the sellout crowd at the banquet with his insistence he would be willing to play any position, “even catcher.”
The Twins won’t be fitting Sano for a chest protector anytime soon, but they do appreciate the offer.
“He’s got a positive attitude,” Ryan said. “We’ve talked to him long enough here to make sure he’s going to buy in, and he has. You heard him. All he wants to do is play, and he doesn’t want to DH. He wants to play a defensive position, and this is the best fit for our club.”