He played shortstop and moved to third base, just like A-Rod. He went to the same college, the University of Miami, that A-Rod almost attended. Heck, he even looks like a little like Alex Rodriguez.
But that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
I’m referring to Danny Valencia, the one-time hotshot Minnesota Twins prospect who was supposed to take over third base duties for the Twins and propel them to continued dominance of the American League’s relatively-weak Central Division.
Valencia, as mentioned above, attended “the U”, and was drafted in the 19th round of the 2006 Draft. Nonetheless, his stock soared as he cruised through the Twins farm system.
In 2007, his first full season as a professional, Valencia hit .302 with 11 HR and 35 RBI with the low Class “A” Beloit Snappers before being moved up to high Class “A” where he hit .291 with .291 with 6 HR and 31 RBI.
The next season, split between high Class “A” Fort Myers and Class “AA” New Britain, Valencia clubbed 15 HR and 76 RBI, with a .311 average.
With his first call up in 2010, Valencia hit .311, with 7 HR and 40 RBI, while appearing in 85 games, all but one at shortstop (the other serving as the DH).
Twins fans were pumped, primarily because of their lack of a steady third basemen since Corey Koskie held the hot corner for the Twins during their nice runs of the early 2000s.
Unfortunately for the Twins, it appeared as though Valencia has hit the skids. Last season, he managed to get by with a .246 average, along with a respectable 15 HR and and 72 RBI. But, he struck out 102 times and had an OBP of only .294.
However, Valencia was never quite able to recapture that stroke, and was sent down to Class “AAA” Rochester this season, and hasn’t played in the Majors since May 9.
It now appears that there’s definitely room for an infield stud on the Twins roster in the not-too-distant future.
Enter Miguel Sano.
The Twins signed Sano out of the Dominican Republic in 2009 with a signing bonus just over $3 million, so this move obviously didn’t come with the knowledge of Valencia’s demise.
The Twinkies relationship with Sano did get off to a bit of a rocky start—there was speculation that Sano was lying about his age. Sano claimed to be 16 in 2009, but many said he was older, and was lying to lure more teams into the bidding war for his services.
However, Sano was eventually cleared, and made a stop at the Twins Dominican Summer League team before heading up to the States and debuting with the Elizabethton Twins of the Appalachian League. In 66 games in Elizabethton, he hit an impressive .292 with 20 HR and 59 RBI in only 66 games.
His fielding was a bit sloppy, with only a .905 fielding percentage at third in 48 games, and a .836 mark in 16 games at short.
This season, with the low Class “A” Beloit Snappers of the Midwest League, Sano’s average fell off to a disappointing .236 through one half the season after starting out on a tear— but, he has knocked in 51 and homered fifteen times so far. And unfortunately, his spotty fielding seems to be a trend, with a .883 fielding percentage through 73 games at the hot corner this year.
Regardless of this minor blip, Sano has been blessed with too many tools not to get a serious look at a permanent spot in the Twins infield over the next few seasons. His raw power, combined with his 6’3″, 195-pound frame will cast an imposing presence in the right-handed batter’s box at Target Field.
What’s more, Sano is only 19, and has been vying for the Major Leagues since he was 16! He’ll be under the watchful eye of the Twins farm system for at least the next two seasons, as the Twins have repeatedly insisted they’ll let Sano simmer in the Minors and have no plans on yanking him up prematurely.
As soon as Sano can cut down on the strikeouts and the sometimes overly-aggressive approach at the plate, in addition to his occasional suspect fielding, he’ll have no problem finding his way into Twin’s skipper Ron Gardenhire’s lineup for an audition as the Twins’ long-term third basemen or shortstop.
Alexi Casilla surely won’t block his way, as he’s only hitting .244 with 12 RBI and zero homers mostly at second, and Valencia is still trying to sort through his game.
The Twins are giving Trevor Plouffe a shot, who’s hitting .243 with 15 HR and 27 RBI, while playing all over the diamond (but mostly at third). Brian Dozier is also up with the Twins, but is only hitting .227 with 3 HR and 19 RBI.
Hopefully though, Sano can avoid the pitfalls that have ailed Valencia, and maintain consistency and avoid that confidence-shattering return to the bus rides and hot dog dinners of the Minor Leagues.
By 2015, Sano could be that scrappy player, like Koskie, Cuddyer, and Punto before him, that propels the Twins to make another run at a string of AL Central titles while giving the rest of his division rivals headaches.