Star turns for Twins' Miguel Sanó
Minnesota's top prospect excels on the diamond and in front of the cameras
Editor's note: This story is available in Spanish.
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Miguel Sanó, one of the Minnesota Twins' top prospects, is a movie star -- literally.
Sanó won't turn 20 for a week, but he is not intimidated by the cameras recording his every move as he hits his way up the Twins' farm system toward the majors. At his current rate, he'll most likely arrive at Target Field sometime in the 2014 season, although Sanó isn't ruling out the possibility that it could happen this summer.
Despite being the youngest player in the Florida State League (Advanced Class A), the shortstop-turned-third baseman is hitting .368 and leads the league with nine home runs and 24 RBIs in 24 games with the Fort Myers Miracle. And he's doing it while smiling for the cameras that have followed him everywhere since he was a 15-year-old boy growing up on the playing fields of San Pedro de Macoris on the east side of the Dominican Republic.
"This does not affect me at all," Sanó told ESPNdeportes.com before a game in Clearwater this week. "I believe it helps me because when I'm in the majors, I will be surrounded by cameras, right? It helps me get used to it."
Sanó's journey through the minors has been filmed for the past two years by Guagua Productions for a documentary titled "The Miguel Sanó Story." The producers' intent is to stick with him until he makes his big league debut with the Twins.
"The Miguel Sanó Story" will pick up where "Ballplayer: Pelotero" left off. Focusing on Sanó and another young Dominican player, Jean Carlos, "Ballplayer: Pelotero," which premiered in 2012, examined the controversial and frequently corrupt process by which promising Dominican athletes are scouted, recruited, signed and incorporated into MLB training camps in the Dominican Republic.
In 2009, after a long MLB investigation that included bone structure tests and other examinations to determine if he really was 16, as his documents and his tutors claimed, Sanó received a $3.15 million signing bonus from Minnesota.
The executive producer of "Ballplayer: Pelotero" was Bobby Valentine, at that time the manager of the Boston Red Sox. The film created some discomfort in Major League Baseball's central offices. When it was released, commissioner Bud Selig called it inaccurate and spoke with the Red Sox about Valentine's role with it. Valentine is not a part of "The Miguel Sano Story."
If Sanó was affected by the controversy over "Ballplayer: Pelotero," it's difficult to discern.
"I feel happy," said Sanó, who was ranked 11th on Keith Law's top 100 prospects list in February. "Having a movie is something that makes you feel good. The second one will be better than the first one. That will not affect me. I keep a clear mind, focusing on the important things."
Being the center of attention certainly hasn't seemed to hurt Sanó's game. Through three-plus seasons in the minors, he is batting .287 with 64 home runs and 212 RBIs. Last year, he hit 28 home runs and drove in 100 runs in 129 games for Beloit in the Midwest League (Middle Class A).
Nearly half of his 35 hits for Fort Myers this season have been for extra bases -- seven doubles and a triple to go with his nine home runs. Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that he is thinking about the next level and doesn't rule out the possibility of playing at Target Field this year.
"The team says that I could be promoted [to Double-A] next month, but I'm not distracted by that," Sanó said. "Every day, I try to play tougher. And when I'm there, I will do the same thing: play hard every game, every day, every inning.
"I hope to be in the big leagues by the end of the year. I'm working on that. If it's not this year, it will be at the start of next year. I believe that I deserve the chance. I have the skills and potential."
"Miguel looks very comfortable doing what he is doing," said Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz. "[He's] more mature and each day closer to being ready for the big leagues. We are talking about a very young man but one that has a lot of pride and never settles on doing things halfway."
Before he gets to the majors, though, Sanó knows he needs to learn a few things and improve on others. He is still in the transition from shortstop to third base, and his knowledge of the strike zone can use some work. He struck out 144 times in 2012 and is averaging more than one strikeout per game in his minor league career.
"After playing my whole life as a shortstop, it was tough settling in as a third baseman, because my legs moved a lot," he said. "I worked hard in winter ball and then with Paul Molitor in training camp, getting used to it.
"I'm not worried about swinging the bat. It's a matter of adjustment. Last year, I took 80 walks, and this year I've got plenty. I think I can become a ballplayer who gets 100 walks."
What worries him the most? The language, and his weight.
"I really want to improve my English," Sanó said. "I've focused 100 percent on that and would like to speak better English by the time I get to Double-A.
"I arrived to training camp around 238 pounds, but now I'm down to 229, which is my ideal weight."
Getting to the Twins Double-A team in New Britain, Conn., is the next item on Sanó's to-do list. While he thinks it could happen soon, his coaches would rather wait and let his development be the guide for the next step.
"Organizations have a general plan that includes a ballplayer and also the next team for him," said Ivan Arteaga, Fort Myers' pitching coach and the general manager of Margarita in Venezuela's winter ball. "Sanó might get 200 at-bats in Class-A, another 200 in Double-A, before he is ready for the next level. When he gets to Double-A, he will be real close to the big leagues."
"I don't get the final word, but I think he is ready for Double-A," Mientkiewicz said. "You have to understand that Minnesota doesn't want Sanó to be promoted and then go back. When he gets called to the big leagues, it will be for the long run."
Until he gets the phone call to inform him of his next assignment, Sanó will enjoy the two things he really likes: hitting a baseball and posing for the cameras.
"I love being filmed, but I don't lose my focus," he said. "I never lost it when I was signed and got what might be for a guy with a humble origin a lot of money. I'm a humble guy, from a humble family, who has got much advice from many people, including big league players."
"Cano taught me how to deal with things like making a lot of money women and stuff like that," said Sanó, already a star in his own right in real-life movies.