October 1, 2009

Great news during rough times

Reports came in Tuesday night that Dominican prospect Miguel Angel Sano and the Twins have agreed terms on a contract. On the surface, to many, this isn't a very big deal at all. But in reality, it's huge news for the Minnesota Twins and I think Twins fans should be well aware at what this signing means for the Twins. It also couldn't come at a better time as the Twins struggle to stay afloat in the American League Central.

Sano is reportedly being handed a $3.15 million signing bonus, a solid dollar amount for both Sano and the Twins. Speculation mounted over Sano's true age prior to July 2nd, the first day International free agents are free to sign with potential ball clubs. The speculation grew into an investigation by Major League Baseball that ultimately has come up inconclusive. After tests showed that he was between the ages of 16 and 17, not much new has been reported since the start of the investigation (unless of course, I just missed it).

With an investigation over his head, Sano's projected cost plummeted. At the price that Sano signed, it was a good deal for him, although probably not the deal he was originally looking for, and it was also a great deal for the Twins. And although the investigation may not be completely over, the contract is contingent on Sano's ability to acquire a work visa, something he can't do if he's caught lying about his age.

Minnesota is getting a player who has drawn comparison to Albert Pujols, Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez and Evan Longoria to name a few. Even though comparing a teenager that hasn't picked up a ball in the United States is beyond worthless, it does show the skillset that Sano has. At 6'3'' and 190 lbs., Sano has great potential in his frame and although he's currently listed as a shortstop, he's expected to switch to either third base or the outfield as he continues to fill out. Meanwhile, Sano is coming to an organization lacking a top prospect, meaning he'll likely receive great treatment once he's over here.

However, I don't expect him to be in the Majors in two years like he's hoping. Judging by the way the Twins have handled other prospects over the years, I'm guessing he'll spend at least a full year at each stop, meaning he'll make it to Minnesota around his 22nd birthday. But being as the Twins have never spent this much on a prospect not-named Joe Mauer, I guess nothing is a certainty. (For a nice video of Sano, click here)

This move is just one of several albeit surprising moves by the Twins' management this summer. During the draft, some questioned the team's reasoning for drafting four college pitchers in the first three rounds, especially when this organization hasn't necessarily had problems developing pitchers through the years. It immediately turned out alright as three of the pitchers combined to go 4-0 with a 1.92 ERA in 42 innings this summer. The first round pick, Kyle Gibson, signed late but was a top five talent prior to fracturing his forearm before the draft. Gibson signed late, but his signing was a huge win for the Twins as Gibson always had the option of going back to college if he didn't like his contract.

The Twins in the past have stayed away from amateur players (primarily in the draft) that could demand top dollar amounts. For instance, the organization drafted Ben Revere in 2007, which in hindsight has worked out great, but is a move clearly motivated by finances. While many teams draft with the player's signability in mind, the Twins (at least in the past) have seemed to use that as their starting point in drafts.

Another surprise came when the Twins inked outfield prospect Max Kepler to a deal for $800,000. It was the largest signing bonus given to any prospect not from the United States or Latin America. But that price might be very well worth it as Kepler's been talked about as the highest rated prospect to come from Europe in...well...ever. Kepler, like Sano, is listed around 6'3'' and 190 lbs. and he too is considered a five-tool prospect. Both will also likely start their professional careers with the Gulf Coast League Twins in 2010.

The Twins' management have been very aggressive this summer in signing amateur free agents, and it probably is fair to say that the management will remain aggressive this off-season whether it be in free agency or in trades.

Bill Smith hasn't had the greatest success from the players he's signed, but you can't knock his lack of trying. When everyone became upset at the trade deadline for not addressing either the rotation or bullpen, he pulled through and acquired Jon Rauch, Ron Mahay and Carl Pavano, three players that have played big roles for us down the stretch.

In no way am I suggesting that Smith deserves a medal of honor for these moves, but I love the recent moves he's made. And although he did give them the contracts, you can't blame Smith if these prospects don't work out. The bottom line is that he's being aggressive in an area we generally aren't, and although we all want that money to be going towards high-buck free agents, keep in mind that Nick Punto is making $4 million next season while Sano will be making $3.15 over the course of the next few years. While that's a bad example (as Punto's contract is pretty horrid and you can't use that as a reason this is a good deal), the bottom line is that this could be a great investment for the Twins and I hope that they'll remain aggressive in years to come while pursuing amateur free agents.