Warne: With Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton in system future looks good
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Sano or Buxton? Buxton or Sano?
Regardless of if you prefer the raw power of Miguel Sano, or the all-around game of Byron Buxton, it's clear the Minnesota Twins have two of the finest prospects in baseball.
Prospect outlets agree. According to Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and Fangraphs, Sano ranks ninth, 21st, and 17th respectively; Buxton is 10th, eighth, and 16th.
It seems weird to say this about Sano in any context, but he's the elder statesman of the pair. And while Sano is a mere 221 days older than Buxton, he's already entering his fourth year in the Twins' farm system.
With Sano, it always will be about the bat.
According to Baseball Reference, the conservatively listed 6-foot-3, 195-pound Sano - Twins general manager Terry Ryan estimates Sano is closer to 6-5, 250 pounds -- more than held his own in his age-19 season in Beloit. He hit .258/.373/.521 while taking a huge step in plate discipline, as he nearly doubled his walk rate from 7.8 percent to 14.5 percent despite being the second-youngest hitter in the Midwest League.
Some locals may have seen the youngest player in the Midwest League in 2012 playing in Minneapolis a few years ago. Francisco Lindor played on the under-18 USA team that barnstormed in the Twin Cities in the summer of 2010, playing the Minnetonka Millers among other teams. He's now a shortstop prospect for the Indians, and was named MLB.com's 14th-best prospect before this year.
In short: Miguel's in good company.
But if the previous three years were any sort of buildup, 2013 has been the culmination of Sano's coming of age. Entering Monday, Sano had hit .360/.420/.742, and was leading all minor leagues with nine home runs. That batting line comes out to a .504 wOBA, which is about 100 points better than what NL MVP Buster Posey did for the Giants last year (.406).
That's right. He leads even Joey Gallo, another prospect who like Sano has seen some scouts threatening to hang an 80 -- on the 20-80 scouting scale - on him in the power department.
While Sano's hitting draws the most attention, Ryan has gone so far as to say he's feeling fine with where the third baseman is at as a fielder.
"I swear he still thinks he should be over there playing shortstop," Ryan said. "But I'm pleased with what he's doing defensively."
In fact, by virtue of manager Doug Mientkiewicz's reports, Ryan makes it sound as if Sano is a completely different defensive player this season. "He would make an error about every way last year," Ryan said. "Sometimes it was a throw, sometimes he'd clank one, sometimes he didn't get his feet in order, sometimes he made a bad decision, sometimes it was the field. You've got to get a lot of ways to make 42 errors."
Ryan said he is keeping a close eye on what Sano is doing in the field and said the reports have been favorable.
"He's got four errors, but he made two of them in one game," Ryan said. "Every time he plays a game, Mientkiewicz has had some pretty good things to say about his defense. His game is coming along nicely from the defensive side, it looks like."
All in all, Ryan gives the following scouting report on Sano's defense: "He's got (good) hands, (good) feet, he's athletic. He's got a rifle for an arm. He's certainly got lateral movement. He thinks he could play short. I know that. Which is a good thing. He's doing fine."
Ryan ties it altogether by saying, "He can run too. He's faster than you think."
If one is impressed with what Sano's bringing to the table offensively, it's worth noting Buxton has been equally, if not more impressive -- granted at a lower level. Buxton is hitting .389/.511/.639, with three home runs, eight stolen bases, and 10 extra-base hits altogether -- good for a .515 wOBA.
But perhaps the most impressive part of Buxton's game to this point is his advanced control of the strike zone -- the 19-year-old has walked 18 times and struck out 15 times.
Aaron Hicks, who by many accounts is the gold standard of plate discipline to go through the Twins' system in recent years, never walked more than he struck out in the minors. He came close once, in short-season Rookie ball as an 18-year-old in 2008 with a 32-28 K/BB rate.
In fact, one might have to go back to Joe Mauer's stint at Low-A Quad Cities in 2002 as a 19-year-old to find a similarly-aged hitter doing this sort of thing. That year, Mauer walked 61 times against 42 strikeouts, and some 19 months later found himself in the major league lineup on opening night against C.C. Sabathia in 2004.
That isn't to put undue pressure on young Buxton, or to suggest that he's any sort of bust if he's not written into the big league lineup on Opening Day 2015.
It's just some context as to what Buxton is doing as a young, but extremely talented player. The Twins are confident all of his tools -- yes, in fact power -- will be of use as he progresses to the big leagues, including what many consider plus-plus speed.
When discussing how fast a player of Buxton's caliber, or any player really will be promoted, Ryan spoke at length, if a bit cryptically.
"Usually it doesn't take us to decide, it usually takes the player," Ryan said. "If he's making all the plays, and he continues to dominate offensively...you'd like to have him go around the league a little bit to make sure that everybody gets a look to know what they're up against to pitch to him.
"If he starts getting pitched around, we've always got to get someone behind him. Because we want to have someone to protect him, and we've got protection down there in (Kennys) Vargas, (Mike) Gonzales or somebody. But if they continue to dominate a league, that's about the time you ask if he has anything more to prove there."
But Ryan downplayed his role in promoting players at lower levels, insisting guys like Tom Kelly and Paul Molitor play some strong roles in the movement of non 40-man roster players, especially if Ryan hasn't seen them play in-person.
"I wouldn't even want to give my opinion; that's why we have all these other guys running around looking at these players as well," Ryan said.
But when asked if he would have any added pause about promoting a player directly from Double-A New Britain, Ryan quickly said he wouldn't.
"We have done that a lot. (Chuck) Knoblauch and (Scott) Erickson skipped Triple-A," Ryan said. "(David) Ortiz basically skipped Triple-A. Mauer skipped Triple-A. (Ryan) Pressly damn near skipped Double- and Triple-A. Pressly was only in Double-A for a month. I don't necessarily worry about a guy playing in Triple-A. It's nice to see and have. Some guys don't need it. Mauer certainly didn't need Triple-A baseball."
With that quote in mind, it isn't too hard to read between the lines and feel as though either of these guys could be on a fast track.