Prospect watch: Miguel Sano, Billy Hamilton

Miguel Sano is steadily climbing up the Minnesota Twins prospect chart. (Tom Priddy/Four Seam Images)

When the Minnesota Twins beat everyone out for the rights to a 16-year-old from San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic in 2009, the same town that gave us Sammy Sosa, they knew they had something special on their hands. Miguel Sano was 6’-3”, 180 pounds, and could hit the ball for miles. He was a shortstop and was raw in most areas of the game. The potential, however, was scary.

Said Sano in an interview by Jonathan Mayo at “I’m aware I have some power. I don’t think I will be able to hit 40-50 home runs. If I hit the ball well, I think I will hit some home runs. I don’t think about hitting home runs. I’m just trying to do the best I can, and if the home runs come, that would be great.”

Sano played 61 games as a 17-year-old in 2010 for the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League, both short-season leagues for the Twins. He hit .307 with 16 doubles, seven home runs, 29 RBI and an .870 OPS. He showed gap power, but he wasn’t knocking the ball out of the park like most thought he would.

Baseball America had him rated as number 60 on its top-100 prospects entering the 2011 season. Still playing at short-season ball Elizabethton of the Appalachian League, he hit .292 with 18 doubles, seven triples, 20 home runs, 59 RBI and a .988 OPS over just 66 games. As an 18-year-old, he slugged .637. Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays led the majors last season with a .608 SLG. The power everyone was expecting showed up, and he finished the season rated number 18 on Baseball America’s top-100.

Like most teenagers — Sano would be a senior in high school if he had grown up here — he has areas of his game that need work. His approach at the plate needs more consistency, his defense needs to improve and his base running needs refining. He is very aggressive at the plate, often leading to him chasing pitches out of the zone.

He began this season at class-A Beloit, his first full professional season. Through 10 games, he is 9-for-33 (.273) with four home runs and 13 RBI. He has struck out 12 times, but he has shown an improvement on his patience as he has drawn nine walks. Getting better as the competition does is what determines success. Sano outgrew shortstop and plays strictly at third base now. He might outgrow that position, as well, and end up in a corner outfield position, most likely right field due to his strong arm. The Twins are going to be patient with their young phenom. Still just 18, they want to get him a full year at class-A under his belt before promoting him. However, if he keeps raking the way he is, they might have to speed up his progression.

Billy Hamilton stole 103 bases in 2011 for Cincinnati Reds affiliate class-A Dayton.

The Cincinnati Reds’ Billy Hamilton conjures up memories of another fella by the same name who played in the late 1800s and was known as “Sliding Billy.” Alright, so no one actually remembers him, but the 5’-6”, 150-pound left-hander stole over 100 bases four times in his 14-year career, and finished with 914, good for third all-time. The current, slightly taller Hamilton was a second-round draft pick by the Reds in 2009. The 6’-1”, 160-pound switch-hitter is rated number 48 on baseball America’s top-100, mostly due to his incredible ability to steal bases, much like Sliding Billy.

He showed off his legs as a 19-year-old in 2010 at short-season Billings of the Pioneer League. Over 69 games, he hit .318 with 13 doubles, 10 triples and a whopping 48 stolen bases. He struck out 56 times and only drew 28 walks, an area of concern for a leadoff hitter.

He came into 2011 with one goal in mind: steal 100 bases. Playing his first full season at class-A Dayton, he hit .278 with 18 doubles, nine triples, 50 RBI and 133 strikeouts to 52 walks over 135 games. The improvements on his plate discipline didn’t show up. He did, however, finish with 103 stolen bases, the most since Chris Morris stole 111 for class-A Peoria back in 2001. Morris never made the majors, finishing his six-year minor league career in 2005 with 311 stolen bases and a .262 average over 534 games. The thing is, back in 2001, baseball was a lot different than it is today. The steroid era was in full swing, and slap hitters with speed weren’t a necessity as they are in today’s game. Hamilton is playing at the perfect time for a player with his abilities. Just take a look at Dee Gordon in Los Angeles.

Hamilton doesn’t have the pedigree, or the defensive abilities of Gordon, but he can flat out run. He just needed to make those adjustments to his game to get him there. Over his first 11 games at class-A advanced Bakersfield, he has shown the work he put in during the off season. He is hitting .385 (15-for-39) with four doubles, two triples, a home run, six RBI and 10 stolen bases. Impressive numbers, but the real stat to look at is his seven walks to six strikeouts. If he can keep up that kind of approach at the plate over the course of the season, Reds fans will get to see the second coming of “Sliding Billy” faster than Hamilton can swipe third.

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