Breakout candidate: Twins’ Sabato
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Twins No. 16 prospect Aaron Sabato. There will always be a place in the modern game for a player who has a knack for the long ball, and Aaron Sabato has the
MiLB.com's Breakout Candidate series spotlights players who could garner some serious attention in 2022. Here's a look at Twins No. 16 prospect Aaron Sabato.
There will always be a place in the modern game for a player who has a knack for the long ball, and Aaron Sabato has the power potential that could make for a truly exciting season in 2022.
The 2020 first-rounder finished with 19 homers in his first professional season. But a more comprehensive look at his 2021 campaign proves that there’s a lot more in the tank for the 6-foot-2, 230-pound slugger.
Sabato ended up with a spot on the Twins’ Organization All-Stars list, but he trended in the wrong direction for much of the season. He ranked as the club’s No. 7 prospect when he participated at Major League Spring Training in March and fell to No. 16 by the end of the year.
The 22-year-old batted .202/.373/.410 with 18 doubles and 57 RBIs on the season, but he also drew 92 walks, which ranked second among all Minor Leaguers.
Most of the difficulties Sabato endured understandably came during the early part of the season with Low-A Fort Myers, which was the first live game action for the University of North Carolina product in nearly two years.
The rust really showed in May as he batted .138 with 40 strikeouts. He maintained an elite walk rate with 24 free passes in 107 plate appearances (22.4 percent) but he had just six extra-base hits, including two homers, and posted a .263 slugging percentage.
Sabato’s numbers improved as the season continued, and he still never really figured it out at Fort Myers. He batted just .189 with a .357 slugging percentage and 11 homers in 85 games with the Mighty Mussels. But things really began to click after a late-August promotion to High-A Cedar Rapids.
“He was probably part of the most interesting Draft class’ intro to pro ball,” Twins director of player development Alex Hassan told MiLB.com in December. “So I think that contributed to his slow start, but we really saw some encouraging signs towards the second half. We saw more of the guy we expected when we drafted him when he got to Cedar Rapids, and we’re all very excited about the way he finished.”
In 22 games with the Kernels, Sabato proved just how dangerous his power potential could be. He hit eight homers, compiled a .613 slugging percentage and 1.015 OPS, batted .253, drove in 15 runs and scored 21 times.
While this is still a very small sample -- five of his homers came during the last nine games of the season -- it was impressive to see Sabato make these improvements without sacrificing his approach. He still walked in nearly 20 percent of his plate appearances.
“We like his swing, we like his mental approach to the game, to hitting,” amateur scouting director Sean Johnson told MiLB.com after the 2020 Draft. “He's a very confident hitter. He has a great plan at the plate already. He's got a really workable swing. It's a really tight swing with good movements with good direction. He's got power to all fields and so we just like that as an option in the back of the first round. We thought he was the best offensive player left on the board.”
Getting away from the pitcher-friendly environment in Florida brought Sabato closer to his own college profile. He hit 25 homers in 83 total games with the Tar Heels, batting .332 and maintaining a .698 slugging percentage. Sabato still showed great plate discipline in college, but he was more selective in his first Minor League season – which comes with the territory of facing professional pitchers.
“It's clear that he put a lot of time and effort into his process," Minnesota’s former Minor League hitting coordinator Donegal Fergus told MLB.com after the Draft. "He was really good. For me, that's a huge part of what I'm looking for. I've got to work with this kid and I've got to have our staff work with this kid. Does he think in a way that's going to fit in with our style and our philosophy? He's a perfect fit. He's perfect for what we are trying to do.”
The Minor Leagues were treated to a home run race during the 2021 season, which resulted in Royals prospect MJ Melendez’s 41 jacks beating his teammate Nick Pratto and the Marlins’ Griffin Conine, who each hit 36.
Sabato, who had four two-homers games in 2021, absolutely has the type of power potential to hit more than 30 homers in a Minor League season. His late-season success shows just what that might look like. There is pressure for college first baseman -- especially first-rounders -- to produce runs and hit for power. Sabato just might be able to rise to the occasion.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.