The Twins announced Tuesday that they’ve reinstated first baseman Miguel Sano from the 60-day injured list. Left-hander Danny Coulombe was moved from the 10-day IL to the 60-day IL in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster, while outfielder Gilberto Celestino was optioned to Triple-A St. Paul to open a spot on the active roster.
Sano, 29, got out to the worst start of his career with the Twins earlier this year when he began the season with a calamitous .093/.231/.148 batting line through 17 games and 65 plate appearances. That dismal start came in spite of a modest improvement in his still sky-high strikeout rate (32.3%, down from 34.4% in 2021) and a huge 52.9% hard-hit rate. Sano hit just one home run and did not have a multi-hit game on the season prior to injuring his knee during a walk-off celebration. He eventually underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus and missed all of May and June in addition to most of July.
Because he’s in the final season of a three-year, $30MM contract and because the Twins have received strong production from prospects Alex Kirilloff and Jose Miranda in his absence, it looked for some time like Sano might not have a roster spot waiting for him when he returned. However, Sano decimated minor league opponents during his rehab assignment, hitting .333/.422/.795 with five home runs and three doubles through just 45 plate appearances. He drew six walks, punched out a dozen times and even swiped a base along the way.
That showing was enough to get Sano another opportunity despite the slow start, and it can’t hurt his cause that the now-optioned Celestino has faded after a blistering start to the season. The 23-year-old Celestino has been operating primarily as a fourth outfielder anyhow, and his last multi-hit effort came back on June 14. In 57 plate appearances since that time, he’s hitting just .148/.193/.222. Celestino still provides speed off the bench and elite defense across the outfield, so he can still provide value even if he’s not hitting. For now, however, it’ll be utilityman Nick Gordon serving as the primary backup to Byron Buxton in center field.
Sano is back in the Twins’ lineup today, but the former cleanup hitter has been dropped all the way to ninth. With Miranda hitting .313/.358/.531 in 137 plate appearances since his last recall from the minors and Kirilloff slashing .301/.339/.456 in 112 plate appearances since his own latest recall, Sano’s grasp on the Twins’ first base gig appears tenuous at present.
Both Kirilloff and Miranda are capable options at first base, and with Buxton, Max Kepler and Kyle Garlick in the outfield, plus Gio Urshela as an option at third base, both Kirilloff and Miranda could be used as regular options in a rotation between their respective positions and the DH spot. Sano’s case is aided by the fact that catcher Ryan Jeffers is out six to eight weeks after fracturing his thumb, pushing Gary Sanchez from frequent DH to starting catcher, but the fact remains that the Twins have options in the event that Sano’s struggles continue. With the guaranteed portion of his contract drawing to a close, it becomes more feasible that they could simply move on if he can’t right the ship.
All that said, the Twins would be hard-pressed to find a bigger lineup upgrade than what a healthy and effective Sano can bring to the table. Sano’s .223/.316/.466 batting line from the 2021 season isn’t exactly dominant, but that includes a similarly disastrous start to the one through which he labored earlier this year. From June 4 onward — coincidentally or not, right around the time MLB sent its infamous memo regarding pitcher usage of Spider Tack and other foreign substances — Sano batted .251/.330/.503 with 21 homers and 21 doubles in a span of 373 plate appearances.
The Twins hold a $14MM club option on Sano for the 2023 season — which comes with a $2.75MM buyout. It’s hard to see that option being picked up as things presently stand, but a huge few months from the slugger could change the equation.
Coulombe’s move to the 60-day injured list is largely a formality. He first hit the injured list with a hip impingement on May 11, returned for a day in late May, and went back on the 15-day IL with a recurrence of that same hip issue the very next day. He’s already been on the 15-day IL for for 60 days anyhow, so this switch doesn’t at all impact his ability to return if he gets back to a point where he’s medically cleared to do so. Coulombe, however, has yet to even begin a minor league rehab assignment. In 49 1/3 innings with the Twins dating back to 2020, Coulombe has a 2.92 ERA and a 45-to-19 K/BB ratio.