Miguel Sano walked into the Pensacola Blue Wahoos clubhouse for the first time last Saturday and manager Ramon Borrego immediately noticed a difference.
"Miggy, you're looking great, I can see it," said Borrego, who has known the Minnesota Twins third baseman since 2010, Sano's first pro season in the Twins organization.
Borrego, a Venezuela native, was the then-manager of the Twins' Gulf Coast League, low-A affiliate in Fort Myers. There was instant connection since both were learning about life in the U.S. and bridging the language barrier.
"He was really one of my first coaches when I came to the United States," said Sano, who was signed in Oct. 2009 as international free agent from the Dominican Republic. "So I have known Ramon for a long time. He's great. He's really good helping young players.
As Borrego reminds, the 6-foot-4, 272-pound Sano is still young. He turns 26-years-old on Saturday. Over the past five days with the Blue Wahoos, Sano has continued his comeback journey toward a return to the big leagues from a heel laceration suffered in the off-season. He rested Wednesday as the Blue Wahoos held on for a 1-0 win against the Mississippi Braves..
The plan for Sano, a 2017 American League All-Star, is to play his final Double-A game this week with Blue Wahoos during their 10-day road trip before heading to Rochester, N.Y. where the Twins' Triple-A affiliate, Rochester Red Wings, begin a three-game home series against the Durham (N.C.) Bulls.
"The plan is to get in these games here and go back to the big leagues and help there," said Sano, who has four hits and four RBI in four games with the Blue Wahoos. "It will be fun to get back with those guys."
In facing far better pitching in Double-A, Sano has shown signs of returning to the kind of player he was in 2017, when he batted .264 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI. At the MLB All-Star Game in July that season, he finished second to New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge in the Home Run Derby, showing off the prodigious power that made him one of baseball's most-hyped prospects.
Sano blasted a pitch Sunday over left field at Blue Wahoos Stadium, a towering 3-run homer that traveled toward Pensacola Bay during the team's 9-2 win against Biloxi.
"I feel really good," said Sano, prior to the Blue Wahoos road trip. "I feel stronger. I've been putting in the time doing additional stuff in the field. This is really my first time in Double A since 2015. I'm seeing better pitching now. I gotta do my job here and move forward."
Unfortunately for Sano, he's been limited by injuries over the past two seasons. He twice missed time in August 2017, the latter for more than a month, until the final three games of the season.
In 2018, he was frequently on the injured list again. In late May last season, he was sent all the way down to Fort Myers, this time with the Fort Myers Miracle, which Borrego managed in the Advance-A Florida State League.
When he returned to the Twins in late July, more injury issues occurred and Sano was eventually shut down in mid-September for the rest of the season. He batted just .199 in 71 games for the Twins with 13 homers and 41 RBI.
"We know Sano, the kind of prospect he is," Borrego said. "We are still building him. People forget, he's still only 25 years old. We believe in him a lot. He is really good shape right now."
Borrego, who managed the Miracle to the 2018 FSL title, and now has the Blue Wahoos (22-11) posting the second-best record among all Double-A teams, has seen the new and improved Sano.
"The way he's moving at the third base, the way he's looking at the plate, it's good," Borrego said. "He is in better shape than he was last year. He is moving better. His swing is coming. He's just missed a lot of time. I would say he's about 90-percent. We like give him as many at-bats as we can right now."
In Sano's brief time in Pensacola, he made a positive impression, connecting with Hoosville fans on and off the field.
Before his first game Saturday night, he met Dustin Hannah, the Blue Wahoos head groundskeeper, as they passed in the dugout. Sano stunned Hannah by introducing himself.
In both home games he played, Sano ran out to third base in pregame introductions with young children tagging behind. He helped the T-ball age kids stand appropriately for the National Anthem.
"To see those kids running on the field like that is a beautiful thing," Sano said. "It's awesome."
Blue Wahoos players said Sano's engaging personality resonates throughout the clubhouse.
"He is always fun to have around," said right fielder Jaylin Davis. "I was with him in Fort Myers (last year) for a little bit and he is definitely fun to be around. He brightens up the clubhouse.
"I think he's in a good place right now."
Soon, the Twins hope he settles back at their place.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.