6:42 PM EST, March 7, 2014
The Sports Xchange
By Joe Oberle, The Sports Xchange
Sano's injury reduces Twins' options at third
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 March 7.
"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 March 7, 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."
--RF Chris Parmelee hit his first home run of spring training. He blasted a three-run shot into the right field seats on March 1 against the Red Sox. Parmelee had eight home runs last season while he spent some time in the minor leagues because of midseason ineffectiveness. Now in his fourth season with the Twins, Parmelee needs to make a jump in productivity to solidify a position with the team.
--C Jose Pinto saw his first action in the Grapefruit League on March 1. Pinto had been out with back soreness and returned to the lineup as an in-game substitution for Kurt Suzuki. Pinto, whose chances of making the team hinge more on his offensive production than his ability behind the plate, doubled in his first at-bat. He was 1-for-1 in the Twins' 6-2 win. He is now 2-for-4 in three games.
--RHP Ricky Nolasco, who has the biggest free agent contract in team history, made his Twins debut on March 2. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 6-3 Twins loss. "He was free and easy," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters. "You can see he moves the ball up and down the zone and changes speeds. He's going to be fun to watch."
--RF Oswaldo Arcia hit his first home run of spring training on March 2 -- a solo shot over the left field fence after Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Adam Liberatore threw two pitches near Arcia's head. It was a good sign for Arcia, who last year hit his share of homers (14) but also struck out 117 times in 97 games. Pitchers were going inside him on last year, but this time he responded. "If you don't like people buzzing your tower, then there you have it," manager Ron Gardenhire told the Star Tribune. "You have to hit in the seats. That's what I told him on the bench. Two bow ties and (Liberatore) had to go get a new baseball."
--CF Byron Buxton, the No. 1 prospect in baseball, was hitless in his first start on March 4 against Miami. Buxton batted leadoff and went 0-for-5. He was a little disappointed with his performance. "Not even close," Buxton told reporters. "But it's baseball. I've got to keep working on it." The 20-year-old Buxton is not expected to make the club this year, but manager Ron Gardenhire said he hopes to get him a few more cracks at it with the major league team before he has to make a roster move on March 10. On March 7, Buxton got another shot in a B-lineup game (0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts) and a late substitution into the A game (0-for-2). He is 2-for-14 (.143) so far this spring.
--The Twins and the Toronto Blue Jays were the first teams in major league history to use the new replay system that will instituted league-wide this season. In their March 4 spring training game, the system was put to the test. Two calls at first base were reviewed in the game and neither was overturned.
--RHP Phil Hughes worked his first 2-1/2 innings as a member of the Minnesota Twins. He started against the Miami Marlins on March 4 and gave up one earned run, two hits and one walk and had three strikeouts in the Twins' 3-1 loss. "I was just getting my stretch down a little bit better," Hughes told the Star Tribune. "It's tough sometimes in the bullpen -- you don't get those game situations with guys on base. Just finding a good rhythm and a good sink out of the stretch was a little tough (Tuesday), and it showed with my command."
--CF Alex Presley is in a battle with Aaron Hicks for the starting center field position. Presley, who came over in a trade late last season, finished as the starter, but his bat struggled thus far in spring training. He went 1-for-3 against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 7, which raised his batting average to .200 (3-for-15) -- down from his average of .283 in 28 games for the Twins last season.
--RHP Vance Worley, who made the big club last season but then was sent down to the minors, credits Triple-A pitching coach Marty Mason with helping him find his old arm slot and pick up some velocity last summer. But that did not help him in latest game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 7. Worley started the game and gave up five runs and seven hits in 1 1/3 innings pitched. Worley told the Pioneer Press that his "fastball command was down."
--1B Chris Colabello went 3-for-3 in the Twins' 6-5 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday. Colabello lined a ninth-inning RBI single to center field. Colabello, who came into the game for Joe Mauer, also scored twice in the game. He is battling to make the team as Mauer's backup at first base.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"When (Blue Jays manager John Gibbons) came out and they went to the replay, I was thinking, 'Maybe I'm the first one. This could be kind of cool. I might get on ESPN or something.'" -- OF Chris Rahl (to the Star Tribune) on being involved in the first replay review in major league history.
Copyright © 2014, Reuters