Sano learning right-field ropes -- with Hunter's help

February 28th, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Miguel Sano fielded a ground ball in right field during an early workout on Sunday morning, he spun to his left and threw the ball into the infield without properly setting his feet at the correct angle.

Sano immediately knew what he did wrong, but it didn't come from instincts. It was because Torii Hunter -- a nine-time Gold Glove winner during his 19-year career -- was standing right behind him in the outfield to go over even the smallest of details with Sano, who is making the transition to right field from third base.

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It's become a morning routine for Sano to go out early for extra work in the outfield with first-base coach Butch Davis before team meetings, but now that Hunter is in camp for 10 days as a guest instructor, Sano is receiving more individual attention on what he needs to do to become a capable right fielder.

"I'm just trying to give him different mental sides of the outfield, and what I look for," Hunter said. "I'm trying to help him with the mental side, because he physically can do it. He can run, he's athletic, he has a good arm in right. He has everything you need. People are panicking with a big guy like that, but most big guys can't run, and if they can, they're in the NFL as defensive ends. So he's pretty impressive."

Sano, 22, is serious about making the switch, as he studies video of his favorite outfielders, including Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen, Texas' Josh Hamilton and especially Hunter, who is regarded as one of the best defensive outfielders of his generation. He then puts that into practice, and he thinks he's already starting to feel more comfortable in right field with Hunter's advice.

"He told me about my footwork in the outfield and my decision-making," Sano said. "He showed me a lot of stuff I can do in the outfield in the game. He has a lot of experience and is really trying to help me a lot."

But Sano, who has never played outfield in a professional game, remains raw in the outfield, as evidenced by a simple misplay he made during his time with Hunter. Sano ran in hard on a sinking liner, but tried to catch it with his glove facing sideways, leading him to botch the catch. Hunter and Davis were immediately on Sano to explain to him what he did wrong, and he was able to easily correct it on the next attempt.

"He makes adjustments well, and that's what we need," Hunter said. "A lot of guys can't make the adjustment. Right away, when you tell him something, he'll apply it and get better at it. Even today at practice, you could tell he was implementing the stuff I showed him this morning. You can tell when a guy wants it, and when he doesn't. He's serious and wants to prove a lot of people wrong."

Sano remains an affable personality off the field, joking he'd like to win a Gold Glove in right field, but he is far from not taking the move seriously. Twins manager Paul Molitor has continued to receive good reports on Sano's progress, and he noted the club will be patient with him.

"I heard he's moving around well out there," Molitor said. "He's talking about getting his body ready and taking it as seriously as he possibly can. Getting the effort out of him is a good thing, because this spring is going to go really fast for him."

But Hunter said the nuances of playing the outfield likely won't fully set in with Sano for at least a year, as it takes time to get used to the footwork, throwing angles, routes and everything else that comes with the position. So as second baseman Brian Dozier said, the key is just learning the fundamentals and not trying to do too much.

"We don't expect or need him to be a Gold Glover out there," Dozier said. "Obviously, he's not going to have the range of a guy like [Eddie] Rosario, but as long as he has the fundamentals that a guy like even Josh Willingham had, that's all we need. Just do the things you're supposed to do, and come back in the dugout and hit a homer for us."