This first gaggle of players in the Baseball Tonight 100 features some great veterans who might be fading from the limelight, but the two names that really jump out are the guys who none of us expect to be in this last 10th of the top 100 list for very long: shortstop Corey Seager of the Los Angeles Dodgers and right fielder Miguel Sano of the Minnesota Twins.
If you love power production, it would be hard to pick two other guys who create such huge expectations for what they’re going to be able to do at the plate, now and far into the future. But what if you had to pick between them? First, let’s consider their résumés:
Sano: He’s a former top-10 prospect in all of baseball who was touted from the moment he signed as an amateur out of the Dominican Republic back in 2009. Sano’s arrival in the majors was delayed by a year or more by elbow surgery that shelved him for all of 2014. But once he got the call last year at the start of July, he skipped that whole “period of adjustments” thing by raking, hitting .269/.385/.530, consistent with a career minor-league line of .278/.373/.564.
Sano spent much of the 2015 season DHing, but it’s far too soon to consign the 22-year-old to doing the thing he does best. With one eye on the value they already get from third baseman Trevor Plouffe after his 61 extra-base hits in 2015, and perhaps another on Sano’s bulk -- he’s listed at 6-foot-4 and 260 pounds -- the Twins moved him to right field this winter, which will probably help him in the long run as far as health and durability. And given a future that Baseball Prospectus’ long-term projections say should be good for about 32 homers a season for the next 11 years, that’s something you want to secure and enjoy.
The one negative? Sano is a tremendous Three True Outcomes hitter, homering, walking or whiffing in 56.7 percent of his at-bats as a rookie, with his 35.5 percent strikeout rate leading all big-league players with 300 or more plate appearances. Whiffing more than a third of the time may be more understandable with MLB-wide strikeout rates at historic highs, but there’s striking out a lot, and then there’s that planet that has just Glenallen Hill, Rob Deer and the like managing to whiff that much and do enough other stuff to stick around. Sano does plenty of other stuff at the plate. Can he whiff that much and deliver on his profile of power dominance?
Seager: The Dodgers’ former first-rounder joined the organization in 2012 as the 18th overall pick. Like Sano, he’s also a former top-10 talent among all baseball prospects, and like Sano he beat the bejeezus out of pitchers in the minors, clobbering them at a .307/.368/.523 clip, including 75 extra-base hits combined in the Cal League and Double-A in 2014. Called up to help the Dodgers down the stretch -- but retaining his rookie eligibility -- Seager was ready to do even more damage, putting up a quick .986 OPS in 113 plate appearances.
Seager is almost a year younger than Sano, and because he’s also a really big guy for shortstop -- standing 6-foot-4 -- he too might have to change positions. But when might that be? As ESPN's Buster Olney and Jerry Crasnick touched on in Monday morning’s BBTN podcast, Seager looks really good there, thanks to some really soft hands, and his minor-league numbers and scouting reports don’t suggest he can’t play there, just that it’s unusual to have somebody as tall as Cal Ripken show up and stick at short. To their credit, the Dodgers don’t seem inclined to rush him off the premium defensive position just yet, so hold off on those predictions that he’s going to third base for the time being.
The negative? Well, in Seager’s case there really isn’t one. He doesn’t swing and miss much, showing exceptional contact and coverage skills at the plate. His offensive upside is lower than Sano’s in that long-term forecasts are much more modest, pegging him as a 20-homer-per-year guy, hitting .260 with slugging percentages in the mid-.400s. That’s very good, especially at shortstop or third base.
The call: So if you had to pick, which one would you choose? Seager has the positional advantage -- it’s harder to find a top-shelf shortstop or a top third baseman -- and Seager is also younger and has a noteworthy advantage as far as a better breadth of skills at the plate.
However, I’ve already pegged Sano as the guy who will win the American League home run crown in 2016, and the move to right field -- while it has come with some initial hiccups as he adjusts -- doesn’t look like something the Twins are going to reconsider. So that’s a big-bopping right fielder, a franchise slugger. As much as I love what Seager’s about to do to the National League, I’m even more excited about what Sano is going to do putting on a show in the American.