Sano, Puckett All-Stars in Third Years
Miguel Sano was one of three Twins on the American League’s roster for last night’s All-Star Game in Miami. Being an All-Star could have prompted longtime Twins fans to make a few comparisons with the late Kirby Puckett.
Sano is 24 years old, the same age Puckett was when he played his first big league season with the Twins in 1984. Sano has already participated in parts of two seasons with the Twins but last night’s All-Star Game was his first.
Puckett initially played in MLB’s summer showcase at age 26. As with Sano, Puckett made the All-Star roster for the first time when he was in his third season with Minnesota. The year was 1986 and Puckett was on his way to a final batting average of .328, with 31 home runs and 96 RBI.
Sano and Puckett, both right-handed hitters with hefty physiques, drew comparisons earlier this season when Sano got to 10 home runs in 32 games, the fastest of any Twins hitter since Puckett pulled that off in 23 games. Those are numbers that can be indicative of a team’s best hitter—its biggest weapon in the batting order.
Puckett was the Twins’ leader for parts of the 1980s and 1990s during a 12-year career when he hit over .300 eight times. He finished his career with a .319 lifetime batting average and 207 home runs. Even more lasting to his legacy are the two World Series titles he helped bring to the Twins.
Sano has emerged as the Twins’ most important offensive player at the age Puckett was just arriving at the Metrodome. His home runs, RBI and slugging percentage are tops on the team. Those totals of 21 and 62, and the .538 percentage, rank sixth, third and ninth in the American League. His batting average is .276.
The Twins, who had a 59-102 record last season, are among baseball’s surprise teams at the All-Star break. The club is 45-43, only 2.5 games behind the first place Indians in the American League’s Central Division. Part of that success is attributable to Sano whose 62 RBI are 21 more than his nearest teammate (Brian Dozier).
Sano is starting to make his name more prominent nationally, and who knows if the path might lead to Cooperstown where Puckett is enshrined in baseball’s Hall of Fame. Monday night on national TV Sano reached the finals of the All-Star weekend’s Home Run Derby where he lost to Yankee slugger Aaron Judge.
In last night’s All-Star game Sano drove in the American League’s first run in a 2-1 win over the National League. Minnesota’s other representatives in the game were 34-year-old starter Ervin Santana and bullpen closer Brandon Kintzler, 32.
Santana, with a 10-6 record and 2.99 ERA, might be headed to the best season of his career but at his age he doesn’t have the potential to headline the Twins like Sano. As a reliever, Kintzler won’t assume that role either.
Joe Mauer, 34, has a resume of three AL batting titles and that 2009 league MVP Award, but he has been fading for years. He has missed the .300 batting mark for the past three seasons.
Byron Buxton’s fielding in center field could make even Puckett smile but he’s been hitting around .200 much of the season and the long-term prospect for becoming a threat at bat is up for debate, even though Buxton is only 23 years old. Sano is the team’s alpha dog already and perhaps will be for another 10 years or more.
Even at third base Sano has been a contributor. He has committed an acceptable 12 errors and his fielding percentage of .970 is 60 points better than his career MLB number entering this season.
The 6-4, 262-pound Sano has shown a nimbleness and strong arm in the field while contributing to a surprisingly strong defense that hasn’t received enough credit when discussion occurs about the team’s collective success.
Puckett was extraordinary in the field and seven times in his career reached double digits in stolen bases. Sano will never be the all-around player Puckett was, not even close. Puckett hit for average and power, and seven times he was a Gold Glove winner for his work in center field. He even reached double figures seven times in stolen bases.
Sano seems on track to become one of baseball’s best sluggers, easily surpassing Puckett’s career home run total. Puckett’s best home run years were when he hit 31, 28 and 24. Sano, who already has 64 career homers, is a free swinger who struck out 178 times last season in 431 plate appearances and probably will top that this year. Puckett never struck out more than 99 times in a season.
Sano, like Puckett, not only has the potential to be the club’s offensive leader for years to come but could emerge as a vocal leader like Kirby. What’s that Puckett once said to teammates? “Jump on my back, boys.” Sano, a native of the Dominican Republic, perhaps could say something like that in both Spanish and English to teammates in the future if the Twins have contending teams.
A sad note in any language, though, is that Puckett, who died in 2006, won’t be able to join his former teammates from the 1987 club for a reunion weekend in Minneapolis July 20-22 celebrating 30 years since the Twins were baseball’s world champions. Among those expected are ex-players Keith Atherton, Juan Berenguer, Bert Blyleven, Randy Bush, Sal Butera, Mark Davidson, George Frazier, Gary Gaetti, Dan Gladden, Kent Hrbek, Gene Larkin, Tim Laudner, Steve Lombardozzi, Al Newman, Jeff Reardon, Roy Smalley, Mike Smithson, Les Straker, and Frank Viola. Expected also are manager Tom Kelly, and coaches Tony Oliva, Rick Stelmaszek and Dick Such.