Miguel Sano had some uncertainties about beginning the 2012 season in the Class A Midwest League. There's the extended workload of a 140-game schedule, the increase in the number of breaking pitches he'd see and those chilly April nights in Beloit, Wis.
An 0-for-6 start signaled those trepidations might be getting the best of the Twins' top prospect. What relief one swing can bring.
Sano smashed a grand slam in the seventh inning Friday night, helping the Snappers pull away for a 6-1 victory over the Peoria Chiefs.
"I feel a little relief," Sano said through a translator. "It was kind of tough that I didn't get any hits in those first six at-bats. I'm still adjusting to the league and I was a little worried the cold weather. But after the home run, I'm definitely feeling more confident."
Perhaps it was fitting that Sano's first hit was a homer. MLB.com's No. 23 overall prospect ranked second in the Appalachian League with 20 in only 66 games for Rookie-level Elizabethton. That figure represented a nearly 200 percent increase from the 2010 season -- Sano's first in professional baseball -- when he hit seven in 61 games between the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League.
Hr attributed the power surge to a new approach at the plate.
"I've always been aware that I'm a strong guy," Sano said, "but the home runs haven't always been there. My coaches made me focus on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field, and they said the home runs will follow."
They were right. The 18-year-old batted .292 with a league-leading 45 extra-base hits, 59 RBIs and a .637 slugging percentage to earn a spot on the postseason All-Star team.
Despite those gaudy numbers, strikeouts remain a concern for Sano, who fanned once every 3.47 at-bats last summer and has struck out four times in seven at-bats this season.
In the seventh inning, however, the native of the Dominican Republic laid off two sliders before launching a fastball from Peoria southpaw Willengton Cruz over the left-field fence. It capped a five-run inning and produced Sano's first full-season hit and RBIs.
Decreasing his strikeout total while maintaining his power are two of his formidable goals for the season.
"This year, I would like to improve my defense, so that one day I could eventually get a Gold Glove," Sano said. "As for offense, I want 200 hits and 100 RBIs."
Former seventh-round pick Steven Gruver allowed one run on five hits but did not figure in the decision for Beloit. He fanned five without issuing a walk as three Snappers combined to register 11 strikeouts.
Chiefs starter Patrick Francescon fanned nine and gave up a run on two hits over 4 2/3 innings.