Fans flock to TwinsFest to see prospect Sano

MINNEAPOLIS — Before hundreds of adoring fans took pictures of him, Twins minor leaguer Miguel Sano had to first take a picture of his own this weekend at TwinsFest.

The 19-year-old Sano, widely regarded as the organization’s top prospect, stopped Minnesota first baseman Justin Morneau and had someone snap a picture of the veteran slugger with the young third baseman on Sano’s cell phone. As he looked at the picture, Sano grinned from ear to ear.

Fans that had the chance to be in Sano’s presence likely had the same reaction this weekend. It was the first time Sano has been at TwinsFest, and his autograph lines were the longest of any station throughout the event. Granted, part of that was due to the fact that his line was free of charge.

But it was also because Twins fans wanted to catch a glimpse of a player they hope will be a future star.

“We don’t bring just any young player up here and give them this type of exposure,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said of Sano. “Obviously, there’s a lot of interest in him.”

Aside from his baby face, Sano looks like he belongs in the clubhouse with the likes of Morneau, Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. At 6-foot-4, Sano is built more like a veteran slugger than a teenager who has played no higher than Low-A Beloit. In the minors, he was often a man among boys. This weekend, though, he was another one of the guys and tried to interact as much as he could with fellow Twins players.

While Sano’s English is still limited, it’s improving. Being exposed to fans and teammates at TwinsFest no doubt was a challenge for Sano as he still tries to gain a command of the language. But just by him being in Minneapolis shows how big of a deal he is to the Twins organization.

“His English is coming along quite well, I may add, and I’m very happy for that,” Ryan said. “We brought him up here for a reason. We want to let him know that there’s a lot of interest in what he’s doing, the accountability of being a player, the fan base here getting to be a little aware of the community.”

And for good reason. Last year at Beloit, Sano batted .258 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI in 129 games for the Snappers. One year earlier, he belted 20 homers in just 66 games with the Elizabethton Twins in rookie ball.

This winter, he played in 20 games back in his native Dominican Republic. In a short amount of time (49 at-bats), Sano hit four homers, three doubles and drove in 14 runs.

“I was expecting the competition to be a little tougher,” Sano said about his winter ball experience, through a translator. “But I was just focusing on pitch by pitch, watching the pitcher, seeing what I could do to improve on.”

Sano has the raw power that the Twins are hoping will one day translate into major league power. While his defense is still a work in progress — he committed 42 errors last year at third base — Minnesota’s front office believes Sano will be a good third baseman, even though there were some worries that he might physically outgrow the position.

“There’s no doubt that the offensive part of his game right now is ahead of the defensive part of his game,” Ryan said. “We anticipate him staying at third. He’s got all the attributes of being a very good third baseman. He can really throw. He’s got agility. He’s got enough quickness in his feet for range. He’s certainly got soft enough hands. Now it’s just a matter of consistent defense.”

By the time Sano left Minneapolis this weekend, it was snowing. Earlier in the weekend, temperatures approached zero degrees. Back home in the Dominican Republic, the weather was in the 80s.

Playing in a different climate, Sano said, was one of the biggest adjustments he had to make in Beloit last season.

“It was pretty hard for me at first because I’m not used to playing in the cold, coming from the Dominican,” he said “But once I got adjusted to the cold, I was able to break free and work on my (game) and not worry about that anymore.”

There’s a good chance Sano will start the season with High-A Fort Myers, a much balmier climate than Beloit or Minneapolis. With the Miracle, Sano would play for manager Doug Mientkiewicz, a former Twins first baseman and Gold Glove winner who should be able to help Sano improve even more defensively.

For as good as Sano has been in the minors, there are plenty of things he needs to work on before he’s one of the major leaguers at TwinsFest. This weekend, though, he was able to pick the brain of current Twins — and get his picture with them, too.

“People have read a lot about him, and that’s another reason we wanted to bring him up. We wanted to make sure that people do get a look at this guy. Here he is, and here’s what he looks like,” Ryan said. “He’s got charisma and leadership. You know when a guy’s serious about coming up from the Dominican Republic when it’s about zero degrees here and about 80 there. A little bit of a weather culture shock, so there’s a lot of good things that happen from a trip like this.”

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