The most important thing for the Twins in 2019 will be whether Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano can deliver the type of performances that so many expected when they arrived in the big leagues.
Buxton and Sano have both shown flashes — in Sano’s case it was more than a flash — but both were busts in 2018. With spring training right around the corner, but on a frigid day in Minnesota, here’s a reason for some hope.
Former big-league general manager Jim Bowden, writing for The Athletic, put Buxton, Sano and a third Twins player among his top 12 candidates to be in the Comeback Player of the Year race for 2019.
Sano was seventh on Bowden’s list which is led by Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager and followed by Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant; Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez; Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson; Astros shortstop Carlos Correa; and Cubs righthander Yu Darvish.
The 25-year-old Sano hit .199/.281/.398 with 13 home runs and 41 runs batted in in 71 games. Sano was an All-Star as recently as 2017, when he hit 28 home runs, but spent a portion of last season at Single-A Fort Myers because he needed to lose weight and get into shape.
Despite his size (6-foot-4, a listed 260 pounds), Sano remains a third baseman as he enters his fifth season with the Twins. Sano struck out 115 times in 266 at-bats last season after striking out 173 times in 424 at-bats in 2017. The Twins are hoping he can return to the form that enabled him to become an All-Star.
Buxton is 12th on Bowden’s list.
The 25-year-old has established himself as a Gold Glove center fielder but has yet to display any consistency at the plate. During an injury-filled and extremely disappointing 2018 season, Buxton hit .156/.183/.200 with no home runs and four RBIs in 90 at-bats and 28 games. Buxton’s inability has nothing to do with desire and everything to do with not being able to hit big-league pitching. If that changes, the Twins could be set in center for years to come.
The final Twins player listed by Bowden is second baseman Jonathan Schoop, who is one spot ahead of Buxton at 11th. Schoop, 27, like Sano, was an All-Star in 2017, when he hit .293/.338/.503 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs in 160 games.
But Schoop struggled last season with Baltimore, hitting .244/.273/.447 with 17 home runs and 40 RBIs in 85 games before being traded to Milwaukee at the trade deadline. He hit only .202/.246/.331 with four home runs and 21 RBIs in 46 regular-season games with the Brewers.
Schoop signed a one-year, $7.5 million free-agent deal with the Twins in December.