By: Chris Larson
Yesterday was a very busy day of arbitration deals across the league. In total, there were approximately one hundred players that agreed to a contact with their respective team and avoided the arbitration process altogether. On top of that, there were an additional twenty players who were expected to go to an arbitration hearing with their respective club and two other players who signed three-year extensions.
The two players that signed extensions were Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder David Peralta as well as Minnesota Twins third baseman Miguel Sano. Both deals were equally interesting and indicate that both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Minnesota Twins consider both players to be important pieces to their overall core over the next few seasons. Additionally, both deals indicate to other teams the type of value that they have placed on them should either the Diamondbacks or Twins end up trading either guy down the line.
For this article, we will focus in-depth on the extension of "The Bocaton" aka Miguel Sano. Jeff Passan of ESPN was the first to report that Sano had agreed to a three-year extension with the team that includes a club option for the 2023 regular season and would ultimately buy out two years of free agency for Sano. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic later followed up that report with the financial details of the extension, which indicated that the total value of the deal was $30 million dollars, with a $14 million dollar club option or $3 million dollar buyout for the 2023 season.
Sano originally made his major league debut at the ripe young age of twenty-two in July of 2015 and was a highly touted prospect coming up through the Minnesota Twins farm system at the time. Many scouts had drawn comparisons to Sano being the next franchise-altering player for the Twins and someone that could mash the baseball year in and year out. While those projections have been fair in some regards, it's been more of a bumpy road for Sano at the big league level so far.
Outside of his rookie season, another season that stands out for Sano over his big league tenure, was his 2017 season when he was officially named an All-Star. During that season, Sano produced a slash line of: .264/.352/.507 over 483 plate appearances with 112 hits, 15 doubles, 2 triples, 28 home runs, 77 RBI, 54 walks, and 173 strikeouts. When you add what he was able to do on both sides of the baseball (offensively and defensively), it equaled a cumulative Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value of (2.5). However, following the 2017 season is when some concern started to enter into the equation.
During the following year, Miguel Sano started the season very sluggish and did not produce at the level that the Minnesota Twins were expecting by any means. In fact, the first two and half months of that season ended up being so bad that the Twins were forced to send Sano down to Single-A so that he could get away from the pressures of playing at the big league level and work on his craft more. From Opening Day that season (March 29th) until June 13th (when the move to Single-A was made official), Sano put up a slash line of: .203/.270/.405 over 163 plate appearances with a strikeout percentage of 40.5% and a Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) value of 81. Definitely not the results that the Twins were expecting that year.
After spending virtually a month and a half at Single-A, the Twins recalled Miguel Sano back to the major league team, but his impact still wasn't being felt at a high level in many regards. To conclude the season from the day Sano was recalled (July 28th) to the final game that he played (September 18th), Sano batted: .195/.294/.390 over 136 plate appearances with a .195 Isolated Power (ISO) value and a Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA) of .299. That's where the concern started to pick up even more about Sano's future in the big leagues and his future with the Minnesota Twins organization.
Therefore, last offseason there was plenty of talk about what the Minnesota Twins might end up doing with Sano. There were reports that he was being made available in trade discussions or that the team might even consider releasing him, but Minnesota decided to give Sano another chance last year and it was yet another mixed bag of a season overall. Last season over the course of 439 plate appearances, Sano put up a slash line of: .247/.346/.576 with 94 hits, 19 doubles, 2 triples, 34 home runs, 79 RBI, 55 walks, and 159 strikeouts. That equaled out to a WAR of 2.7, a .329 Isolated Power value, and a strikeout percentage of 36.2%.
As a result, there's now some question marks about what to expect from Miguel Sano for the coming 2020 regular season given the bumpy road and mixed bag of success that he has had overall over the past five seasons. Those concerns and question marks are justified and reasons for the Minnesota Twins to be cautious with their new three-year deal for Sano, but there might be some signs of hope as well that are mixed into that overall equation. For starters, Sano will be in his age 27 season and that has shown to be the time that some players, who have struggled early on in their big league career, start to figure things out and come out in a major way. There is a very good chance of that happening for the Minnesota Twins this season.
Furthermore, when it comes to some of the metrics that teams look at via Statcast, those are trending in the right direction for Sano as well. For example, 127 of his batted balls last year registered at 95 miles per hour or higher and Sano had an Average Exit Velocity of 94.4 miles per hour, which put him second in all of baseball behind only Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees in that category. Granted, some of the dynamics of the baseball from last year likely played into the overall equation on Sano's exit velocity, but even during the 2017 All-Star season, Sano was hitting the baseball very hard. That year he finished fourth in all of baseball with an Average Exit Velocity of 92.3 miles per hour.
Beyond all of that, Miguel Sano ranked very high in Barrels Per Plate Appearance last season as well. According to Baseball Savant, Sano finished fifth in all of baseball in that category with a 10.7 value. If you were to change that and look at Barrels Per Batted Ball Event, then Sano finished second behind only Joey Gallo of the Texas Rangers, with a 21.2% value. Both of those are good indicators that there could be some serious promise for Sano heading into next season because both strive to put a value on a player's ability to put the barrel to the ball and generate good contact overall.
With that being said, one potential area of his pitch recognition that Miguel Sano could work on is his ability to hit the changeup pitch. Below is a visual that helps to illustrate his overall strikeout percentage on that pitch during each of his five big league seasons, courtesy of Baseball Savant.
As you can see, Sano has always struggled with the changeup pitch, besides during the 2018 regular season but that is due to him having such a smaller sample size of plate appearances at the big league level that year. During the 2017 regular season when Sano was named an All-Star, he had a .160 batting average, strikeout percentage of 46.2%, and a cumulative Whiff Rate of 51.3% on the changeup pitch which he saw 200 times. More recently, during last season, Sano had a .161 batting average, strikeout percentage of 44.7%, and a cumulative Whiff Rate of 67.1% on the changeup pitch over a sample size of 144 pitches.
Therefore, going into the coming season, Sano will need to try to figure something out, especially considering that some of the American League Central pitching that he will be going up against, relies on it so heavily. For example, Evan Marshall of the division rival Chicago White Sox, throws the changeup pitch 39.2% of the time which puts him sixth in the entire league, among pitchers who threw at least 250 changeups last season. Additionally, the same can be said for Nick Ramirez of the Detroit Tigers, who threw changeups 32% of the time last season and had a cumulative Whiff Rate of 42.5% on.
Regardless, the Minnesota Twins made a statement yesterday when they inked Miguel Sano to the three-year extension with a potential fourth year club option and indicated that they view him as a vital piece to their core over the next few seasons. However, it could end up being a very risky move, especially if Sano doesn't produce at the level that the Minnesota Twins are expecting him to and doesn't take that next step forward in his game, as he reaches his age 27 season. Looking back over his big league career, it's been a very rocky road for Miguel Sano and that's where a lot of question marks come into the equation about the level of impact that he can have within the Twins lineup this coming season.
Although, with those question marks, comes a lot of promise based on some of the Statcast metrics mentioned above and if Sano is able to take that step forward and become the player that he was touted to be as a prospect, then this could very easily be a steal of a deal for the Minnesota Twins. Only time will ultimately tell how the deal ends up playing out for Minnesota.