RAPIDS, Iowa — "When
you deal in baseball, young kids, it's like when you go and harvest
the land. You put the seed in the land, and then you put water in it,
you clear it. You do all of this and when it grows – you sell it.
It's just the way it is."
how a buscón
(trainer) from the Dominican Republic, Astin Jacobo Jr., described
the landscape of Latin America baseball in “Ballplayer: Pelotero,”
a documentary released in July.
followed two of the Dominican’s top prospects in 2009, Miguel Angel
Sanó and Jean Carlos Batista as they prepared for July 2, Major
League Baseball’s international signing date.
baseball in the United States is much different than youth baseball
in the Dominican Republic.
U.S., thousands of teenage boys travel the country year-round playing
in Perfect Game’s most prestigious events in newly-constructed
facilities. Some of these fields host major league spring training
games. Thousands of seats, freshly cut green grass and perfectly
groomed fields are taken for granted.
men balance their baseball travels with studies throughout high
school, many of them destined for a university scholarship or to hear
their name called by Bud Selig at the June amateur draft.
Dominican, an impoverished country that promises nothing but a bleak
future, baseball is a young boy’s only chance. Many drop out of
school at an early age—like Sano did when he was 12—and join a
baseball academy. There, it’s baseball all day, every day. They
eat, sleep and breathe baseball as they work with their buscónes
until they turn 16, the
earliest age they can sign with an MLB team.
little kids in the Dominican, it’s tough to see things like we see
(in the U.S.),” Sano told Perfect Game through a translator last
week. “Poor countries, we don’t have too much money to do stuff
like you guys do here. But baseball gives them a lot of
opportunities. Those people can secure their family’s lives for
not that easy.
international signees in recent years were found to have lied about
their age, name or both, MLB began investigating each one who wished
to sign. Any speculation could scare teams away and force the
player’s signing bonus to drop.
2008, Dominican right-hander Michael Ynoa signed a then-Latin
American record $4.25 million bonus with the Oakland Athletics. A
year later, Sano—a 6-foot-3, 195-pound 16-year-old
once-in-a-lifetime-prospect—was expected to draw an even bigger
MLB discovered that his mom, Melania had a miscarriage when she was
17 years old, they launched an investigation to uncover the top
prospect’s true identity.
bone scan that confirmed Sano’s age to be between 16 and 18, a DNA
test that proved with 99.348 percent certainty that Melania was his
birth mother and a stack of documents that corroborated Sano’s
claim—that he was in fact 16 years old, MLB ended their
investigation July 24—three weeks
after Sano was first eligible
to sign. Their conclusion: There wasn’t enough evidence to verify
Sano’s age. Teams were free to sign him—at their own risk.
later, Sano signed with the Minnesota Twins for $3.15 million, half
of what he’d initially hoped for.
may have been robbed of a record signing bonus, the amount he did
receive was more than enough to make the impoverished 16-year-old and
his family happy. He used part of his signing bonus to buy a house in
the Dominican Republic, complete with multiple bedrooms and a pool,
much nicer than the shack he and seven family members previously
lived in while sleeping on rotted-out mattresses.
as he got the money, a lot of people around him got better,” Beloit
Snappers Manager Nelson Prada said. “I’ve been around a lot of
big leaguers and they like to help, which is a good thing. They do
charity and help their family a lot.”
Now in his
third year as a professional baseball player, Sano—whose nickname
is “Bocatón,” meaning “big lips”—has lived up to the hype.
In January, PG Scouting Coordinator Todd Gold ranked Sano the top
prospect in the Twins’ organization.
hitting .292/.352/.637 with 20 home runs in 293 plate appearances
during his full-season debut in the Rookie Level Appalachian League
in 2011, Sano has exceeded expectations in 2012. The now 19-year-old
hit .258/.373/.521 with 60 extra base hits in 553 plate appearances
with Low-A Beloit this season. His 28 home runs led the Midwest
League—nine more than the next closest player. He also drew 80
walks (second best) and struck out 144 times (fourth worst).
bat has never been in question. His defense however, may be holding
him back. In 125 games at third base this year, Sano committed 42
quick to point out that Sano has improved as the season has
30 (errors) in the first half, but only 11 in the second half and
that’s a big improvement,” he said.
started taking grounders at shortstop in the second half, and Prada
believes that’s helped improve his range at third base.
base, there’s a wall at the foul line and you don’t move there
too much,” Prada said. “So you put him at shortstop and he moves
to the sides more and he can read the ball and attack.
he’s got to be better at reading ground balls. A lot of times he
stays back when he’s supposed to charge, and he charges when he’s
supposed to stay back. So reading the ball is important for him.”
confident, however, that Sano’s defensive woes are due to his young
age and inexperience. As he continues to improve, there’s no
telling how good he’ll become.
of course is to make it to the big leagues. And not only make it, but
stay,” Sano said. “I want to put up numbers like Barry Bonds and
Alex Rodriguez. For me, being in the big leagues is more than being a
good player; you have to be the package.”
like when you’re looking for your wife,” Prada explained. “You’re
not just looking on the outside, you want to have the complete
package. Those guys in the big leagues have the skills to play in the
big leagues, but they’re humble guys and they know how to treat
people and help people. You have to be special to be there. And he
knows you have to follow the rules, listen to the coaches and apply
yourself to get there.”
Perfect Game scouting report (Todd Gold):
has grown significantly over the past three years since signing with
the Twins and has a massive frame that suggests he will continue to
add further strength. Signed as a shortstop, he has transitioned over
to third base as a professional. His present quickness and
athleticism give him the ability to be a quality defender at third
base at the minor league level, though his defensive play is
alarmingly nonchalant, interrupted with occasional bursts of
impressive athleticism. He shows at times that he is capable of
making difficult plays look easy, but he tends to play with minimal
energy in the field. He has seen time at first base and with his
physical projection it seems likely that he will move there full-time
down the road.
conundrum with Sano is that he makes the game look effortless. While
that is a positive thing, scouts can’t help but question the energy
level and he appears to play down to his competition at times. The
raw tools are off the charts, with plus-plus bat speed and massive
raw power. He even offers the bonus of a plus arm and surprising
athleticism for his size. His approach at the plate comes and goes,
he controls at-bats at times and is a spectator in the box other
times. Of course, it’s important to consider the context of a
19-year old player his first full season playing in a
pitching-dominated environment. In spite of the areas where he needs
to refine his game, the upside on Sano is tremendous.
calling card will be his power, which comes easy and he frequently
drives the ball a long way even when he doesn’t square the ball up.
That ability should allow him to not only hit 30-plus home runs a
year, but could also allow him to post solid averages as well. He’s
patient enough to take the pitches he should take, though his walk
rate is a bit skewed by the fact that he’s the Midwest League’s
most feared power threat and is pitched accordingly. The pure hit
tool has a ways to go and will be the biggest x-factor towards
determining whether he’ll be a high strikeout/low average power
threat or a true offensive force at the big league level. Either way
he has plenty of bat to justify his likely eventual move to 1B.