Can Miguel Sano be ready for Twins’ opener? Under the circumstances, it’s possible
In normal circumstances, manager Rocco Baldelli acknowledged Wednesday, a baseball team wouldn’t put much faith in a player getting ready for a season in a week, which is the only path ahead for Miguel Sano if he’s going to play in the Twins’ season opener a week from Friday in Chicago.
This season, of course, is anything but normal, especially for Sano, who arrived at Target Field for his first day of camp after spending the previous two weeks quarantined in his basement with COVID-19. The Twins first baseman’s first organized team activities in over four months were Thursday at CHS Field.
So whether Sano will be “ready” to play the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field, Baldelli said, is relative. The fact is, the rest of the team is only getting three weeks, anyway.
“In a normal situation, you would not think that a week — or maybe even for some guys two and a half weeks — may be enough to get them ready for a spring training,” Baldelli said after Wednesday night’s intrasquad game, a seven-inning contest that ended in a 3-3 tie. “That actually makes you think about all of these situations differently; we’re forced to think about things differently.
“So, is (Sano) going to be absolutely ready in every possible way? I can’t answer that. I don’t know if anyone could. He may be in good shape physically (but) may not have seen enough pitching. He may be ready to go in every possible way. That’s what this next week is for.”
While the Twins’ major leaguers took Thursday off, Sano was with the rest of the 60-player pool in St. Paul getting his first real work since training camp was canceled in mid-March. He said Wednesday he never had any coronavirus symptoms, and hit off a tee and did agility work while quarantined, and Baldelli said he appeared to be in great shape when trainers put him through the wringer on Wednesday.
Sano and teammate Byron Buxton, injured while tracking a fly ball on Monday, each said he would be ready for the season opener. Buxton, diagnosed with a sprain in his left foot, said he would be available for Tuesday’s exhibition against the Cubs at Wrigley Field.
Baldelli remains circumspect but was happy to hear their avowals.
“We’re going to put them in a situation to succeed and not ever put them at risk, so we’re going to be watching them ever day,” he said.
Candidates to spell Buxton in center include right fielder Max Kepler and fourth outfielder Jake Cave, each of whom played there last season after Buxton was lost to an Aug. 1 shoulder injury. Rookie LaMonte Wade Jr. is a possibility, as well. Veteran Marwin Gonzalez is the most likely fill-in at first base, although Ehire Adrianza has been playing there in camp, as well.
One of the many strange things about Wednesday’s scrimmage, played in an empty stadium with crowd noise and music piped over the PA system, was seeing the Twins shift on their own batters. It seemed a little cold, in an admirable way.
But Baldelli’s team has made great use of defensive shifts, and he’s trying to get his team ready to play real games.
“I think it’s so much a part of the game right now that it doesn’t feel very odd or very different,” he said. “I might have answered that differently a few years ago watching baseball or playing a scrimmage game of some kind. But these days, the players are so in tune with that.
“Put it this way: It feels weird and even odder to not be moving and shifting and communicating defensively than it would be just to stand there in a traditional spot.”
Some of the Twins’ top prospects helped fill out the rosters for Wednedsay’s game, and looked good doing it.
Trevor Larnach, a 6-foot-4 outfielder the Twins selected with their first-round pick in the 2018 draft, went 2 for 3 with two hard-hit singles and a strikeout while playing right field. Alex Kirilloff, the team’s top pick in 2016, scored the go-ahead run after reaching on an infield single and advancing to second on a throwing error.
Travis Blankenhorn, a first baseman taken in the third round of the 2015 draft, went 1 for 2 with a double and run scored, and top catching prospect Ryan Jeffers tied the game with a solo home run of veteran reliever Tyler Clippard in the seventh inning.
“We have future major-league talent, guys that truly have the ability to be above-average, impactful players and help us hopefully win a lot of games,” Baldelli said. “… You expect them to continue to get better and grow and improve and turn into those guys that you watch on TV every night. Those are our expectations for those guys.”