Twins' 2020 first-rounder flexes power in Fall League

October 31st, 2023

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For the past three years, has been trying to prove himself.

The Twins' first-round pick in the 2020 Draft (27th overall) had lofty expectations almost instantaneously after the organization labeled him as a "steal" upon his selection and he started drawing comparisons to All-Star slugger Pete Alonso.

But since then, Sabato has been trying to live up to such critical acclaim.

Through his first three seasons in the Twins system, the University of North Carolina product has slashed a meager .212/.348/.426. Sabato has struggled to adjust to the nuances of pro ball at the plate, where he has struck out 394 times in 1,230 plate appearances since debuting in 2021 -- the second most among Minnesota prospects in that span. And once ranked as high as No. 7 on the Twins' Top 30 prospects list, Sabato was unranked entering this season.

It's a rough road that culminated in his appearance in the Arizona Fall League, an important opportunity for the 24-year-old to establish himself. And although his campaign certainly didn't start off strong, Sabato has slowly started to find his groove.

Monday appeared to be a massive step in the right direction.

After homering in each of his two previous games, Sabato kicked his power surge up a notch with two more long balls against Salt River in Glendale's 5-4 walk-off win at Camelback Ranch. It was Sabato's first multihomer game since July 31, 2022, and the sixth of his career.

But, more importantly, it's a performance that fully encapsulates Sabato's lauded potential, serving as a reminder of the player he and the Twins believe he can be.

"I think it's massive," he said. "Any time you watch your favorite athletes of all time, everyone is like, when you get the opportunity you want to seize the moment. And it's one of those things, I'm out in Arizona, I'm in the Fall League, I'm going to play for six weeks, I want to give it my best. I don't want to just go into the Fall League and not learn anything, It's kind of the same thing.

"I think I've taken things from this Fall League that I'll take throughout the rest of my career."

Facing Darius Vines (ATL No. 10) in his first two at-bats, Sabato belted his sixth and seventh homers of the fall, claiming the league lead with the second one. His second-inning big fly traveled an estimated 448 feet over the wall in center at 111 mph off the bat. Sabato turned around a slider from Vines in the fourth, hammering it an estimated 396 feet to left at 110 mph.

Over his last three games, the 24-year-old hit .600 (6-for-10) with four homers, five runs scored and four RBIs.

It's an encouraging streak for Sabato after a rough 2023 season spent entirely with Double-A Wichita, where he managed just 12 homers in 77 games while posting a career-low .759 OPS.

"I think right now I'm pretty locked in," he said. "The biggest thing has just been in the cages, just try to take my intent down so that I can control my body a little bit better. And then in the box, really, it's just how long can I stay on the ball while being as quick as possible in order to rotate. I feel like before that, I kind of would get a little big and my movements would get a little bit excited or jumpy. I'm not using the ground as much. And when we use the ground, we can stay on pitches for a longer amount of time. We can see the ball a lot longer. And so that's really been the biggest thing."

Sabato's recent outburst is even more impressive considering he has only whiffed twice during the three-game hitting streak, a sign he may be regaining his command of the strike zone and ironing out his strikeout troubles on the premier prospect circuit. Both of Monday's home runs came after he fell behind in the count, 0-2.

But none of this is shocking to the first baseman, he knows what he's capable of with the bat in his hand. He understands his unfavorable start in pro ball has led to questions about his talent, but that hasn't deterred his belief in himself.

"I think that's like anything in life," Sabato said. "I mean, obviously if you're defeated, you don't want to like play the victim here and there. But I think it's just one of those things -- had I not had struggled or had I not gone through some things, I feel like the adjustments wouldn't have been made.

"I think it's just all the things that are building up to helping me be the best player that I can be."