A Minny switch: Sano moves across diamond for Donaldson

Published 5:25 pm Wednesday, February 26, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. — For the Twins to land free agent Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sano knew what would be asked of him. He didn’t hesitate.

Instead, Sano sent a video to Donaldson, lobbying the 2015 American League MVP to join the Twins. The key to Sano’s pitch: He would happily move across the infield to play first base with Donaldson taking over at third.

Understand, too, that Sano has appeared in just 31 games at first base since making his big league debut in 2015, spending the last five seasons working to improve at third.

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“The first time I met him, I saw that he’s a really good guy and he’s got a lot of energy,” Sano said. “He’s the kind of player that I love to see. He’s positive and he loves the game. He likes to win and play hard. That’s something that I see all the time.”

Just as his teammates saw what Sano did.

“The teammate that he was to kind of help on the recruiting process of JD, tell him, ‘Hey, you can have third base, I’m willing to move to first base’ I think needs to be put out there,” said Jake Odorizzi, who pitched two innings against Philadelphia on Wednesday.

“That’s a really good team move and a really good team mindset. So, I don’t think he’s gotten enough credit for kind of relinquishing his position to bring in a guy he knew could help his team a lot. So, a lot of credit goes to him,” he said.

After a disappointing start to the 2019 season, when he was sidelined until mid-May be a heel laceration suffered while playing winter ball, Sano rebounded, hitting a career-best 34 homers. He led Minnesota’s “Bomba Squad” to a MLB-record 307 home runs and the AL Central title.

The Twins rewarded Sano with a three-year, $30 million extension in the offseason.

In past springs there have been questions about Sano’s conditioning when he reported. Not so, this year.

“He’s actually in great shape,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “He came in and spent, again, for the second straight offseason, he’s worked incredibly hard. He’s moving well. I don’t think people tend to forget this, but I wonder if they do — he’s an incredible athlete.”

“Just because he has the size and strength that he does, doesn’t mean this guy can’t run. He can run, and he actually gives really good effort on the bases when he’s out there. He’s trying to be the best baserunner and best ballplayer that he can be, and we’re going to see more of that,” he said. “When you watch him run, you definitely think this is what a high-end defensive lineman in the NFL runs like. That’s what he runs like.”

Sano has been working at his new position this spring, using a glove from former teammate Joe Mauer, who is expected in camp later along with Twins former first baseman Justin Morneau. He’s also getting advice from other players, including Fernando Tatis in winter ball, Nelson Cruz and Albert Pujols.

“I’ve got a lot of friends that play first base in the big leagues, and they told me about it,” Sano said. “I try to learn from everybody.”

“I feel comfortable. I know every day, I have my routine with (third base/infield coach Tony) Diaz. It’s different now because last year, I played third, and sometimes they told me to play first base, so I felt a little not in a good spot because playing both positions was different. But now, I play just first base, and I feel more comfortable now.”

It’s been noticeable to his teammates — perhaps, because Sano hasn’t been noticeable at first base.

“I think the key of somebody new, when you don’t notice them, that’s a really good sign,” Odorizzi said. “There’s probably going to be some rough points, some bumps in game situations, but that happens even with (experienced) first basemen. So I think we’re going to be OK.”

At 6-feet-4 and 272 pounds, Sano is easy to spot for his fielders.

“Yeah, he’s large, a large target over there,” Odorizzi said. “As long as I can get it within like a 10-foot radius I think I might be OK.”

With Donaldson in the fold, what kind of damage can the Bomba Squad do this season?

“We’ve got a great lineup, but we’re not looking for the Bomba Squad this year,” Sano said. “We got our record, and I don’t think they can break it too quickly. This year, we’ve got something better. We’ve got a World Series. We’re playing for the World Series.”