Sanó will only play first base for Donaldson

February 19th, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- After the Twins briefly tried in right field during the 2016 season, the big man didn't hide his enthusiasm when he was able to move back to the hot corner.

A lot has changed in four years. Even after smacking 34 homers in a career-best year at the plate and signing a three-year extension, Sanó was not only open to moving off his position -- but he also expressed enthusiasm to do so when the Twins were courting Josh Donaldson.

"I'm going to play first base only for you," Sanó said in a video to Donaldson during the slugger's free agency. "Call me soon, bro. We need you on the Bomba Squad."

General manager Thad Levine said at TwinsFest that Sanó strolled right across the diamond in his native Dominican Republic from third base to first to get to work when he first heard news of Donaldson's signing. Though Levine likely exercised a bit of creative license with that statement, that level of motivation at this camp is evident in how Sanó has carried himself over the first few days since he reported early to Spring Training.

On Sunday, even before organized position player workouts had started at the CenturyLink Sports Complex, Sanó grabbed one of Joe Mauer's old first-base mitts and took throws from Donaldson and top prospects Royce Lewis and Travis Blankenhorn on one of the back fields. He had already gotten a head start in the offseason, when he worked with Fernando Tatís in the Dominican Republic to facilitate the transition.

"Miguel is very motivated right now to become the best first baseman he can possibly be," Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. "He's not a player who is satisfied, offensively, defensively. But going over to a new spot, he’s coming into camp ready to work. He's said so much many times over. And I'm excited to watch him grow over there."

This spring, Sanó will participate in all of the Twins' infield drills at first base and work individually with infield coordinator Tony Diaz to catch up on the necessary skills. Diaz isn't trying to do anything special -- it's just a matter of giving Sanó the reps to get him accustomed to the routine plays and avoid any glaring miscues.

"He's got to be comfortable getting to the bag on time," Diaz said. "And then, throws in the air? That's really just his responsibility. Just catch the ball in the air. And then hopefully, the short picks become second nature to him."

The Twins already have some sense of what they can expect from their new first baseman. He worked out at the position last season and has made 31 appearances there in his career, including 26 starts. That's not a large enough sample size for defensive metrics to really mean much, but the Twins appear confident that Sanó's natural athleticism and instincts are strong enough for a reasonably smooth transition to the new position.

That athleticism, by the way? It's clear that Sanó's motivation from his intense work before the '19 season carried through into this winter, as evidenced by his strong physical condition in his arrival at camp. He would already have been one of the better athletes at first base, anyway: Sanó's 26.5 ft/sec sprint speed last season would have placed him solidly in the upper half of the position.

"He looks great," Baldelli said. "It's a couple years in a row now where he's really done this and made a point to invest in himself, and to dedicate his offseason to his preparation and his body, and I think he looks like a supreme athlete."

If Sanó can simply avoid being a liability at first base and make all of the necessary plays, his 40-homer power will certainly play. But Baldelli still hopes there's more defensive upside there.

"Anyone can play first base or third base or shortstop or second base at some level," Baldelli said. "But to do it at a high level, you have to work, and you have to have ability. And Miguel has the ability. We have seen him. He has the ability to go over and play some third base. He can certainly learn first base and do a nice job for us."