The Twins set a Major League Baseball record with 307 home runs in 2019. Maybe it’s something they want to get used to.
With a farm system that includes power-hitting prospects such as Brent Rooker, Trevor Larnach and Alex Kirilloff, the Twins spent their first-round pick in the 2020 draft on another masher in North Carolina first baseman Aaron Sabato.
Sabato, 21, hit .343 with 18 home runs and earned national freshman of the year honors in 2019. In 19 games this season, before the coronavirus shut down sports, he batted .292 with seven home runs and 18 RBI.
He’s 6-feet-2 and 230 pounds. While in high school, he participated in a Perfect Game showcase during which he broke Bryce Harper’s record with an exit velocity of 103 miles per hour.
What does that tell you?
“I certainly think he fits in with the last few iterations with our club, the Bomba Squad and all that,” said Twins scouting director Sean Johnson, “but yeah, we really value his offensive upside and ceiling, the power threat, all those things are really hard to procure in the draft and to pick in the back end of the first round, we feel lucky to have him there.”
Sabato was not made available to the media after the draft.
A righthanded hitter, Sabato had shoulder surgery last summer, which kept him from a spot in the Cape Cod League. Baseball America ranked Sabato as the 35th-best prospect available, noting that he’s a below-average defender and a slow runner. But the publication did have him going to Texas with the 14th overall pick in its final mock draft. For him to be drafted as a first baseman — and possible designated hitter — a team has to believe his power will play in the majors.
The Twins like Sabato’s quality of at-bats, the path of his swing and his ability to launch baseballs over defenders. A native of Rye Brook, N.Y., he was undrafted out of Brunswick School in Greenwich, Conn., where he was a shortstop; but he has done enough damage on the collegiate level to land in the first round of the draft after one-plus seasons. In a year in which the draft has been reduced to five rounds because of the economic impact from the pandemic, Sabato lands in a spot in which the recommended bonus for the 27th overall pick is $2.57 million.
To reach conviction on Alonzo, Twins-sourcing was in play, as they sought the opinions of many people throughout the organization.
“We did have an all-hands approach to this draft,” Johnson said. “Under the circumstances, [manager] Rocco Baldelli and [bench coach] Mike Bell, [pitching coach] Wes Johnson on down … all of our player development people from Jeremy Zoll, Alex Hassan all of our coordinators, I would say we had upward of 50 Twins employees that had some opinions on this group of players, from the scouts, player development, front office. We asked for a lot of opinions.
“Our hitting coordinators and player development guys were thrilled about Sabato’s swing, the power. These power guys are a little more tricky sometimes because you are not sure how much they can tap into their raw power. At the end of the day you have to be able to put the ball in play, make contact and control the strike zone, and Aaron Sabato does all those things. He checks all the boxes in that regard.
“He’s got really tight moves in his swing, great extension, really elite exit velocity.”
The Twins held Zoom meetings with about 50 prospects before the draft. With few games before the pandemic canceled seasons, there was limited viewing from scouts, national crosscheckers and scouting directors.
“When you can’t see a player perform the last three months leading up to the draft the next best thing is to do is to make sure that the makeup and background check out, and the guy is wired the way you want them to be wired,” Johnson said. “This guy is that. He’s driven to be a good hitter, a good player. He’s open-minded to the technology and the things we can offer him as a pro. We have a lot of comfort in the player.”
The Twins have three more picks in the draft, which concludes Thursday. They choose 59th overall (second round), 128th (fourth round) and 158th (fifth round).
Their third-round pick was lost because they signed free agent Josh Donaldson in the offseason.