In his first season as a manager, former Gold Glove first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz is scooping up victories like somebody's skipping them in the dirt his way.
The former Major Leaguer made history in an old home Sunday as his Class A Advanced Fort Myers' squad defeated Charlotte, 5-2, to improve to a 10-0 record, the best start in the Florida State League affiliate's history.
"It's definitely not that easy," Mientkiewicz, a former Miracle player, said with a laugh. "But it's been fun."
The Miracle trailed in the bottom of the seventh inning, 2-1, when Adam Petersen hit a sacrifice fly that plated Jonathan Goncalves to tie the game. Later in the frame, the Twins' top prospect, Miguel Sano, mashed a go-ahead three-run homer to left-center field.
"The first pitch was an inside fastball, and the second a slider outside," Sano said through a translator. "I thought, 'He isn't going to not throw a strike because the game is tied right now.' I thought about hitting it up the middle, and I hit it out."
"[Sano's] talent level is obviously through the roof," Mientkiewicz said. "He's a unique, special player. There are times I have to almost stop myself to remember that he's only 19 years old. He's definitely a very polished hitter. He's a dangerous hitter."
Sano and Eddie Rosario have been the two biggest contributors to the Miracle's success. Sano's 3-for-4 effort Sunday lifted his batting average to .400 with a whopping 1.169 OPS. He has hits in eight straight games, and four of those have been multi-hit efforts. He also has seven extra-base hits in that time.
Meanwhile, Rosario has hit safely in nine straight games. Minnesota's No. 8 prospect was just 1-for-3 Sunday, but had multiple hits in each of his previous three contests. The second baseman is hitting .372 with five doubles, and according to Mientkiewicz, he'd have at least six or seven home runs by now if not for the pitcher-friendly FSL environment.
"[Rosario's] a little unorthodox, but his barrel stays through the zone for a long time," the skipper said. "The great ones at the big leagues, their bats stay in the zone for forever. Eddie does that. He has a special knack for finding the ball with the barrel."
Rosario and Sano have been teammates since 2010, when both played for the Twins' Rookie-level Gulf Coast League affiliate. Mientkiewicz immediately noticed the duo's camaraderie and thinks it's been a boon to the team's performance.
"They help each other out, stay on each other," the 12-year Major Leaguer said. "There's some competition between them, for sure. It's all to the benefit of us."
Sano hasn't been short on help this year. In Spring Training, the former shortstop worked extensively with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor to improve his play at third base. Mientkiewicz said he was surprised by Sano's ability and polish at the hot corner when he came to Fort Myers based on reputation, and he suspected Molitor was a big part of that.
"[Molitor] taught me how to react quicker to the ball," Sano said. "Taught me how to read grounders, and helped me a lot with my footwork in terms of when grounders are coming. I'm really happy with all the hard work he's put into trying to help me. I'm happy I'm improving."
"I think for him, it's just about positioning and getting comfortable with playing third base," Mientkiewicz said. "He was a shortstop, and he's still learning when to play in and play back, but he definitely has the arm strength."
Sano and Rosario haven't been alone. On Saturday, the team beat Charlotte, 8-7, backed by a three-run homer by first baseman Kennys Vargas. Angel Morales has posted a .333 batting average and a .919 OPS as the team's center fielder. D.J. Baxendale has a 0.87 ERA in two starts, and Ryan O'Rourke is 3-0 with a 0.00 ERA in four relief appearances.
And the team has jelled with Mientkiewicz at the helm. The 1995 Twins' Draft pick began his professional career with Fort Myers that same year, posting a .702 OPS in 38 games. Entrusted with some of the top talent in the Twins' system, he says it's his goal to instill the same winning attitude that helped him reach the playoffs three times with the Twins in the early 2000s.
"We feel, as the Minnesota Twins go, that winning is a big part of the development," he said. "It doesn't just happen overnight. Definitely, we try to develop that in our players. They're learning how to win games, learning that it is a skill."