Spring training: Sano makes early imprint on Twins

Dominican prospect lost by Pirates showing 'tremendous upside'

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It will take several years, realistically, for the Pirates to know how much they lost by failing last summer to sign Miguel Sano, the 16-year-old Dominican shortstop who was Latin America's top amateur prospect.

But the earliest indications from Sano's time with the Minnesota Twins, the team that did sign him, sure sound like a match for all those long-stated, lofty expectations.

One statement made even before Sano's arrival came in Baseball America's 2010 prospect rankings, which placed Sano at No. 4 in Minnesota's perennially rich system. The journal, which ranks players based on voluminous information from scouts, described Sano as having "thunder in his hands and forearms" and adding that he "could hit 30 home runs annually down the line."

Another statement, though it was one solitary afternoon, came from Sano on Wednesday when he made his first appearance in a Minnesota minor league game and lashed two singles.


Game: Pirates vs. Boston Red Sox, 1:05 p.m., McKechnie Field, Bradenton, Fla. LHP Paul Maholm vs. RHP Josh Beckett. Other pitchers: Vinnie Chulk, Brendan Donnelly, Evan Meek, Brian Burres.

TV, radio: None.

Camp roster: 53 players, including 28 pitchers, five catchers, 11 infielders, nine outfielders.

Key matchup: RHP Joel Hanrahan (elbow).

Of note: 17 days until the Los Angeles Dodgers at PNC Park.

Jim Rantz, the Twins' long-time minor league director, watched it.

"We haven't had him around for long, but you can already see he's got tremendous upside with a lot of skill, a good frame, and he's going to fill out even more," Rantz said in an interview at Minnesota's minor league complex. "He's got all the tools, all the skills. I believe he's going to be exciting."

Most teams will keep newly signed Latin American prospects in their home countries for a year or two, but Rantz decided he wanted to see him at the first chance.

The Twins signed Sano for $3.15 million in September, and he was cleared for travel to the U.S. in December after an age and identity investigation was complete. He arrived in Fort Myers two weeks ago.

On Thursday, before the Pirates and Twins played a Grapefruit League game at adjacent Hammond Stadium, Sano stood out in stature and talent in his group of rookie-level minor leaguers: He looked smooth and natural in all facets, and he homered deep to left in his batting practice.

Rantz's tentative plan is to return Sano to the Dominican Summer League later in the year.

"We wanted him to get the instruction, our daily routine, and to show him how the Twins operate," Rantz said. "Also, these players eventually are going to be his teammates."

The Pirates had the best chance to sign Sano, an international free agent, for most of last summer. Their highest offer was $2.6 million, though ownership and management was adamant that it would have topped that amount -- and Minnesota's ultimate offer -- if given a chance to counter. Rob Plummer, Sano's agent, still maintains that the Pirates could have signed his client when they had the chance.

The Twins declined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's request to interview Sano, saying he will speak only with Minnesota outlets for now.

Earlier in the week, Sano told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he chose the Twins because of star players Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau.

"I want to be able to play with them," Sano said through an interpreter.

Regarding his bonus, the highest ever for a Latin American position player: "Right now, I really don't look at money. I let my mom worry about that. In two or three years, when I get to Major League Baseball, I'll start thinking about it."

Young homers again

Delwyn Young homered for the fourth time in five games, a two-run shot off a Clay Condrey cutter, in the Pirates' 5-4 loss to Minnesota.

Young went 1 for 4, and his spring totals are a .357 average, four home runs and 12 RBIs.

"Just swinging and putting it in play," he said.

Young is a lock for the bench, and manager John Russell acknowledged he will try to find time for him not only at second base but also occasionally in right field.

"Delwyn's a very good hitter," Russell said. "The way he swings the bat, you want to find ways to get him out there."

Jason Jaramillo and Jeff Clement each hit his first home run.

Ross Ohlendorf allowed two runs and four hits in his four innings, his spring ERA now at 5.14. His changeup and sinker were especially sharp, and he appeared more aggressive than in previous starts.

"I feel like I was able to be into the game more in terms of reading hitters' swings, picking my pitches," Ohlendorf said.

Brian Bass allowed a run in each of the eighth and ninth innings, the latter on Luke Hughes' RBI double that brought Minnesota the victory.

Dotel returning Sunday

Closer Octavio Dotel will pitch in his first Grapefruit League game for the Pirates on Sunday.

He made 24 pitches in a minor league game Thursday in Bradenton, with no trouble from his strained oblique, after which he was cleared to return to full action.

Buried treasure

• Left fielder Lastings Milledge was struck in the back of the left shoulder by a line drive during Minnesota's batting practice, but he was fine after treatment.

• Shortstop Ronny Cedeno returned from his lacerated right hand and doubled just before Young's home run, going 1 for 3.

• Brandon Moss' spring start is now at 0 for 22 after going 0 for 3 as the designated hitter. He reached once on an error but was caught stealing.

• Javier Lopez pitched a scoreless sixth inning and now has made six scoreless appearances, while another left-hander, Jack Taschner, finally allowed his first run, a seventh-inning home run by Brendan Harris.

Dejan Kovacevic: dkovacevic@post-gazette.com . Find more at PBC Blog .


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