By Do-Hyoung Park – www.mntwins.com
MINNEAPOLIS — It took maybe a matter of seconds before the first Pete Alonso comparison arose in MLB Network’s coverage when the Twins selected University of North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato with the No. 27 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft on Wednesday night.
Loaded as it might be to immediately cast that kind of parallel on a 21-year-old college sophomore seconds into one of the biggest evenings of his life, the comparisons do somewhat write themselves: big body, prodigious power, first-base projection. Even Twins scouting director Sean Johnson acknowledged that the similarities are very natural — and that’s something that’s echoed by other voices in the organization, too.
“If he turns out like Pete Alonso, obviously, we’re thrilled with that, picking at the back of the first round,” Johnson said. “Any version of Pete Alonso, we’ll take.”
Whatever version that may ultimately be, the Twins already had plenty of excitement over Sabato’s availability that late in the first round on his own merits. There’s almost certainly little to no defensive upside to be had in Sabato’s future, as Johnson echoed the sentiment of many Draft evaluators that the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Sabato projects at first base only. Even so, the promise and upside of Sabato’s bat at No. 27 were too alluring for the Twins to pass up.
“We thought he was the best offensive bat on the board, offensive player left on the board, just from every standpoint possible, going back to his season last year,” Johnson said on a conference call Wednesday night. “If you look at him analytically, he lined up with some of the guys that went at the very top of the board.”
“I’m fired up,” said Twins Minor League hitting coordinator Donegal Fergus. “He was my No. 1 choice. I had him right behind [No. 1 overall pick Spencer] Torkelson on my overall board. I really like this kid.”
Sabato was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 41 prospect in the class. This represents the fifth straight season in which the Twins have drafted a position player with their first selection of the Draft.
The Draft continues today with Rounds 2-5. The MLB Network preview show begins at 3 p.m. CT, with live coverage on MLB Network and ESPN2 beginning at 4 p.m. CT. Go to MLB.com/Draft for complete coverage, including every pick on the Draft Tracker, coverage and analysis from MLB Pipeline’s Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo, the complete order of selection and more. And follow @MLBDraft and @MLBDraftTracker on Twitter.
The Twins will make their next selection today at the end of the second round with the No. 59 overall selection. Following that pick, they won’t be on the board again until No. 128, at the end of the fourth round, because they traded away their pick in the Competitive Balance Round B in the deal that brought Kenta Maeda to the Twin Cities and also forfeited their third-round selection for signing free agent Josh Donaldson during the offseason.
Sabato’s selection continued the Twins’ recent trend of picking productive college bats at the end of the first round, which has also seen the club take Matt Wallner (2019, No. 39), Trevor Larnach (2018, No. 20) and Brent Rooker (2017, No. 35) in that range. Though the Twins don’t draft for need, Sabato also does fill a bit of a vacuum that was created at first base. Rooker will soon graduate to the Majors, while Luke Raley and Lewin Diaz were both traded away and Ryan Costello tragically passed away in New Zealand during the offseason.
The limited college numbers really speak for themselves when it comes to Sabato, a Draft-eligible sophomore: he hit .343/.453/.696 with a North Carolina-record 18 homers as a freshman in 2019, earning him first-team freshman All-America and third-team All-America honors from Baseball America and D1Baseball. He struck out 56 times and walked 39 times in 230 at-bats, showing an advanced command of the strike zone that impressed both Johnson and Fergus.
And both evaluators spoke glowingly of Sabato’s compact, simple swing, his easy power and the cerebral approach to hitting and development that became clear when the club evaluated Sabato’s mentality on their all-hands-on-deck Zoom interview and evaluations with him leading into the Draft.
“With Sabato, it’s hard for me to find something [to fix] from my perspective,” Fergus said. “I think he’s a fast riser. I think he’s a steal. I think he fits both physically and approach-based with us as well as somebody could have drawn up on paper.”
Do the Twins already have a glut of top-end hitting talent ranked at the top of their organization? Sure. But Sabato’s potential to be part of Bomba Squad 2.0 in a few short years is still quite the exciting prospect for them all the same.
“Picking from the pool of players that were left for us to take, yes, his offense ruled the day,” Johnson said. “I mean, from that perspective, he was just a pick that we couldn’t pass up.”
“[Leading up to the Draft], Sean Johnson says, ‘Well, Ferg, if we’re taking a hitter …’ and he’s going to ask me about Sabato or these other guys,” Fergus said. “And I just said, ‘Sabato. Sabato. Sabato. Sabato. Sabato.'”