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Twins Fan From Afar

Thoughts on Miguel Sano, Discipline, and the Twins' (and Rock Cats') Reaction

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"Bocaton" is Miguel Sano's nickname.
It means "Big Mouth."

[Originally published at Twins Fan From Afar]

The biggest Twins story this past week hasn't been the team's resurgence toward respectability with a few series wins, or the impending trade deadline that will likely ship out fan-favorite Justin Morneau. No, to be sure, the focal point of discussion has been out here in New Britain, Connecticut, where Miguel Sano has been benched since a Tuesday night home run that undoubtedly left Terry Ryan (in attendance), manager Jeff Smith, opposing pitcher (and up until this June a Rock Cat himself) Bobby Lanigan, and others less than thrilled. If by chance you haven't seen the home run, here's a link to the video.



There are at least a couple schools of thought being played out in the media, and by fans right now. It's more complicated than two schools, but I'll distill it here for the sake of brevity. One school suggests that the Twins were correct to bench Sano for this display. They believe that the benching isn't an attempt to take away Sano's fire and attitude, but rather to instill in him the "correct" way to play the game. They also note that the benching didn't have as much to do with the homer as it did Sano's reactions to Ryan and Smith when questioned after the game.


The second school suggests that the Twins are trying to take away the lively and fiery personality of one of their best hitting prospects, and a guy that could help turn around this franchise as early as next season. "They're going to tell him to start hitting to opposite field," this crowd might say, in reference to what the Twins suggested to (then struggling hitter) David Ortiz.


As usual, I think the truth is somewhere in-between. I've seen 3 of 4 of Sano's AA home runs in person. A couple facts: he never runs fast around the bases, and he may linger at home plate for a second or two if he knows the ball isn't coming back. That being said, I've never seen him stand at home plate for 5-6 seconds, then take almost 30 seconds to round the bases. For some good background on this particular home run, and Sano's prior dealings with pitcher Bobby Lanigan, please, please read Pat Reusse's column here. Just like with most things in life, there's more than meets the eye in connection with this at-bat.


More important than Reusse's rendition of Lanigan's and Sano's past conflicts, however, is Reusse's call to action to the Twins to hire a coach from Latin America, pronto. To give credit where credit is due, Reusse is not the first person to point this out. I know, among others, that Thrylos at The Tenth Inning Stretch has been clamoring for the Twins to do exactly this for at least a few seasons. And right now, that suggestion really makes sense.


No, hiring a native-Spanish speaker (hopefully a younger, ex-MLB player) is not a cure-all. But there is something to be said for the fact that Oswaldo Arcia, Eddie Rosario, and Sano -- three players most recently disciplined by the Twins -- are playing on teams that lack a coach/mentor/leader that shares cultural characteristics. The Twins should be lauded for getting Arcia, Rosario and Sano. All 3 could be All-Star caliber players, and the Twins spent millions to get them. But something is being lost in translation, and I'm not sure what the fix is.


I watched, and loved, Ballplayer Pelotero, the documentary featuring Sano. I can't pretend to understand the struggle of these Latin American ballplayers. Yes, they often are given between several hundred thousand and several million dollars to sign, but that happens at age 16. And at least in Sano's case, it's been stated that he is not in control of that money, and that much of the money has been spent in real estate in his native Dominican Republic. These kids go from poor to somewhat wealthy; from living in the Dominican Republic or a similar country to living in Ft. Myers or Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and from being big-shots in their hometown to being cogs in a large, large wheel. The point here isn't to suggest that we need to feel sympathy for Sano et al., but rather that we, as fans, have no idea the pressures they face, and whether they are at all equipped to face such pressures.


I think Reusse's piece was spot-on. Trading aging veterans, continuing to sign top prospects, and allowing rookies to learn from their mistakes will make the Twins better in the long-run. Hiring multiple native Spanish speaking coaches at multiple levels of the system (assuming they're otherwise qualified, of course), will help this organization immediately. I can't suggest that this is a cure-all, but I can suggest that something is absolutely getting lost in translation. Would a native-Spanish speaking coach have prevented Sano's display? Probably not. But might that coach been able to have diffuse the situation (keeping in mind that Sano's English is improving but is not at all good) before too much damage was done? Perhaps.


A couple final points:



  • I expect Sano to be back in the lineup either today or when New Britain comes home tomorrow. The team has been drawing well at home, but is not selling out mid-week games. Sano puts people in seats, and fans want to see him the last month of the season.
  • Sano is not a jerk. I've read on TwinsDaily, and a few other comment boards, where people are saying that they don't care what his personality is, so long as he gets the job done. There's some merit to that: the vast majority of Twins players are very nice and personable, and some (many over the past few seasons) simply don't get the job done. I want Sano to succeed on the ballfield more than I want him to be considered a logical replacement host for Michael Strahan when he retires from his gig with Kelly Ripa. But these aren't mutually exclusive. From my brief encounters with Sano, he is a nice guy. I see him supporting teammates, yelling "let's go," -- and meaning it -- as he trots from third base back to the dugout when the team was down by 5 runs late in a game. I see him signing for kids before games, and tossing balls into the stands as he jogs back into the dugout. Sure, part of this very well might be a display, but by no means have I seen him be rude or discourteous to paying customers or reporters.
  • Finally, HE IS 20 YEARS OLD. What kind of dumb stuff did you do when you were 20? Did you think that you knew a lot? I did. Did you think that money grew on trees when you got a big paycheck from that summer job? I did. The Rock Cats (through the Twins) are trying to make Sano mature a little faster than he is ready for. Why? Because next year at this time they fully expect he's going to be manning third base for the Twins. He's going to be on ESPN. He'll have sponsorship deals. He's going to be in the public eye of the nation, not just Twins Territory and Central Connecticut. Videos of his dumb displays won't be grainy and on YouTube; they'll be on SportsCenter for the world to see.

Comments

  1. AScheib50's Avatar
    This whole thing really reminds me of a book I just finished, it was called Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy. He pitched in Rookie Ball for the Angels in the early 2000s. He played with the likes of Alberto Callaspo and Eric Eybar and Joe Saunders. Basically, it covers the year he spent playing minor league ball. It was crazy to hear about their lifestyles and what they had to go through. Especially interesting was the relationship between the "Dominicans" (apparently it was a blanket term for Latin players) and the Americans. So the issue between Lanigan and Sano seems like something straight from this book.

    The other thing from this book that is applicable is the way Joe Saunders was treated. He was a top 10 pick the same year the author was drafted. He signed a big contract and basically came to Rookie ball getting treated favorably was not making a ton of friends. So I wonder if sometimes these bonus baby types, like Sano, have a hard time relating to the rest of the players or carry themselves a little differently.

    Long story short. We really underestimate what playing minor league ball is like. It's a grind to say the least and a lot of crazy stuff happens that we don't know the half of.
  2. NC-Twins's Avatar
    Good points. I think it's healthy that he got benched, but it's been blown out of proportion. He needs to learn that his actions affect his teammates. I can just imagine if he did that in the big leagues and Joe Mauer was hitting after him...

    Selfish baseball isn't fun to watch.
  3. beckmt's Avatar
    I think the point was, that Sano has to understand what he did was wrong, it only would make thing worse for the next hitter or the next time he came to the plate when the pitcher might want to put on in his ear. That can affect a career.
  4. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by AScheib50
    This whole thing really reminds me of a book I just finished, it was called Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy. He pitched in Rookie Ball for the Angels in the early 2000s. He played with the likes of Alberto Callaspo and Eric Eybar and Joe Saunders. Basically, it covers the year he spent playing minor league ball. It was crazy to hear about their lifestyles and what they had to go through. Especially interesting was the relationship between the "Dominicans" (apparently it was a blanket term for Latin players) and the Americans. So the issue between Lanigan and Sano seems like something straight from this book.

    The other thing from this book that is applicable is the way Joe Saunders was treated. He was a top 10 pick the same year the author was drafted. He signed a big contract and basically came to Rookie ball getting treated favorably was not making a ton of friends. So I wonder if sometimes these bonus baby types, like Sano, have a hard time relating to the rest of the players or carry themselves a little differently.

    Long story short. We really underestimate what playing minor league ball is like. It's a grind to say the least and a lot of crazy stuff happens that we don't know the half of.
    Good points. I read "Odd Man Out" a couple years ago and had very similar takeaways. Excellent read for anyone that's looking for a good baseball book, btw.
  5. Jim H's Avatar
    Good piece. I like what you said here. There is a couple of things that bother me though. First, I think the need for more Latin American coaches and Sano's behavior are or should be separate issues. Sano seems to understand exactly what he did, why the Twins disapprove of this behavior and(since he had gotten in trouble for similar instances before) the likely consequences. If that is not true, the Twins do have even a bigger problem. But assuming that it is true, the Twins had no real choice here, discipline had to be applied.

    All reports agree with you, Sano is a nice guy. At 20 he is probably a bit of an immature one as well. That doesn't change the need for discipline in this instance. Because Sano is a big part of the future for the Twins the whole thing gets blown up bigger than it should. The Twins have benched various other prospects as well over the last few years. I believe they are fairly consistent about this sort of thing. Whether we are talking about stars or scrubs. White players or minority players.

    Most pro athletes have big egos. They were all the best on the field or the court before they became pros. Part of what professional organizations have to deal with is getting all these egos to work together and respect each other. I don't think there is any easy answer to that. Especially given the disparate backrounds, differences in bonus money and the fact that the Twins are dealing with a bunch of kids in the minors.


    I do think the Twins organization takes helping Latin American players and really all players acclimate themselves to pro ball, seriously. Should they/could they do better? The answer is probably yes. At the same time I know they have classes for Latin American athletes and that they have a several Latin American coaches stationed at Fort Myers. It would be nice to know a little more of what they actually do before condemning them for what they do not do.


    As you suggested above, being a star and being a good guy are not mutually exclusive. I also do not think the Twins are trying to supress personality or curb enthusiam. What they are trying to do is channel it. Puckett, Hrbek, Olivia, Killebrew and many other Twins had plenty of personality. They also acted professionally on the field. Hopefully, that is what will be achieved with these young players as well.
  6. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    Thanks for the comment, Jim H. Great points.

    You're right -- Sano's conduct and the Twins' need for Latin American coaches are distinct issues, but I think there's some correlation -- or at least that the presence of the latter may, on some level, assist with former.

    And you are right, I know the Twins have classes in Ft. Myers to help teach these guys English, so it's not as if they're doing nothing -- and I didn't mean to suggest that.

    But the facts that the organization is spending big money on Latin American players, yet has no native Spanish-speaking coaches, seems strange. It's certainly no "fix-all," but I bet it would help a little in overcoming what seems to be a current problem in an otherwise fantastic farm system.
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