Twins' options at third reduced with Sano's injury
By Joe Oberle, Sports Xchange
The Minnesota Twins and their fans got they some bad early news in spring training.
They were looking forward to top prospect Miguel Sano as he prepared for what might have been his rookie season in the majors. Instead of becoming the team’s top story for his performance, Sano became the top story of the spring because of an elbow injury that will require season-ending Tommy John surgery.
On Feb. 27, Sano felt some pain in his right elbow after making a throw across his body in the Twins’ intrasquad game. The following day, he had an MRI that showed damage to the elbow. The result is Tommy John surgery for Sano and one of the biggest attractions at spring training shelved for the season.
“It’s rather unfortunate,” assistant general manager Rob Antony told FSN Sports. “During the intrasquad game, Miguel came in on a slow roller (and made a throw). He felt pain in his elbow and came into the dugout and told us. So we did an ultrasound and MRI and the doctors all looked at it and (decided) he has to have Tommy John surgery.”
Where the story gets interesting and has created some consternation from fans is that Sano and the Twins knew about the injury in November, when Sano first complained about elbow soreness.
“In November, Miguel notified us that he was having a little bit of elbow issues,” Antony said. “We flew him in from the Dominican and he had an ultrasound and MRI. There was a noticeable tear in the UCL of his elbow, but our doctors consulted (and we got an opinion from orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala.) and they all concurred that the best course of action would be to try to rehab.
“So he did that over the course of the winter. And we knew that it wasn’t until game started and he had to start making throws from different angles that we were really going to find out whether it was the holdup are not.”
The most recent MRI showed similar damage to the elbow (as in November), but it had not gotten worse. Now, however, he faces surgery in March rather than four months earlier. Fans and media have questioned why the team chose rehab rather than surgery for Sano in November.
“The number one thing is if you can avoid surgery that’s the best case,” Antony said. “Especially, since if he would have had it (in November), he would have missed the entire 2014 season. By waiting and trying the rehab route, we had a chance of maybe being able to playing through this thing. If he has it now, he’ll still be ready for 2015. So I think that it was worth the gamble and worth waiting and being patient on that.”
Sano had not expected to return up north with the club when spring training ended, but there was plenty of speculation that he might be there by June, so the injury is a blow and delays the development of one of the team’s future stars.
For the present, however, Trevor Plouffe is the incumbent third basemen. Before Sano’s injury, Plouffe was expected to be challenged by Sano. Plouffe had a less-than-stellar 2013 campaign (he batted .254 and had 13 fielding errors) and was considered by some as a placeholder unless he took another step in his own development this season.
It’s early, but thus far in spring training, Plouffe is trying to make that move. He is 3-for-10 (.300) in five games, including 1-for-2 in his most recent outing on Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“I think this is a big year for (Plouffe),” Antony told the Star Tribune. “Defensively, he has shown flashes. Defensively, he’s improved some. I think he still has room to improve. He works at it every day. I think he wants it, and I think he’s starting to learn how to become a good major league player.”
In addition, non-rostered invitee Brandon Waring (a former Oriole) has received some attention for starting strong this spring with a batting average of .300 (3-for-10) that includes a home run. On Friday, he came into the game as pinch runner, went 1-for-2, had an RBI and scored two runs. The Twins have to like what they see so far in Waring.
The position is Plouffe’s to lose, but many fans were hoping to see Sano in spring training and up with the team by midsummer. Because Sano is not a pitcher, his rehab time should be shorter — eight months rather the typical 12-plus months for a pitcher.
Antony said there is a chance that four months after surgery (which is scheduled for March 12 in New York) Sano might be able to swing the bat and potentially DH. He could DH in some minor league games if the team chooses to do so.
But look for him to shut things down this season and prepare for a big year in 2015. The Twins are not giving any consideration to moving him to a position such as first base, where he would not throw as much.
“We think he can be a very good third baseman,” Antony said. “He’s a big man but is very athletic, very agile and we think once he gets this arm straightened out and healthy again that he can be a very good third baseman.”