'A perfect fit': Twins sign first-rounder Sabato

June 24th, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS -- The ink is barely dry on Aaron Sabato's first professional contract, but he's already thinking ahead to the days when his big bat could be part of the Twins' power show at Target Field.

The slugging first baseman sees himself as a perfect fit in that mold. So do the Twins. That's why they selected the bat-primary first basemen with the 27th overall pick in an abbreviated 2020 MLB Draft -- despite his defensive inflexibility -- and officially signed him on Tuesday with an above-slot signing bonus of $2.75 million, sources told to MLB.com.

"You look at their lineup, and every one of those guys are just dangerous hitters and can hit the ball out out at any given time," Sabato said. "For me, that’s kind of how I feel about myself, knowing that I can hit 30, 40-plus homers in the big leagues and then also hit for average as well. It’s just one of those things where I know I can fit right in and be a part of that Bomba Squad."

The assigned slot value of the No. 27 selection in this year's Draft was $2,570,100, and it's a relatively rare occurrence for the Twins to surpass the totals set for their first-round picks -- it's something they hadn't done in at least the last decade.

"Sitting here and going to Target Field and meeting everybody in the front office and signing my name to that paper and realizing that I'm part of the Twins family now -- I thought the Draft was something special," Sabato said. "But seeing this and realizing this and sitting here realizing that I am a professional baseball player now is indescribable."

Sabato was a Draft-eligible sophomore following an impressive 2019 debut season at the University of North Carolina, where he hit .343/.453/.696 with 18 homers and 25 doubles in 64 games, setting a school record for long balls as a freshman. He was named a first-team Freshman All-American and third-team All-American by both D1Baseball and Baseball America. He had seven more homers in 19 games as part of the shortened '20 season.

The massive power and big body that invite comparisons to Mets slugger Pete Alonso are evident, but it was the plate approach and the fit that really spoke to both sides during the Draft process. Sabato said that's part of why he was eager to sign with the Twins, though he held more leverage than the average draftee due to his earlier eligibility as a sophomore.

"How I fit into that team and the organization and what they do with hitters -- that's where it was more of realizing I was in a perfect spot with organization and I want to be a Twin," Sabato said. "And we both were going to get a deal done for both sides."

Sabato said he only had one Zoom call with the organization during the pre-Draft process with area scout Ty Dawson, scouting director Sean Johnson and Minor League hitting coordinator Donegal Fergus, and as he conversed with Fergus about hitting philosophy, a natural connection was palpable. The Twins value strike-zone discipline and doing damage against hittable pitches -- something Sabato made a career of at UNC.

Fergus looked through tape of Sabato's at-bats and focused in particular on scenarios in which plate discipline might be sacrificed -- late in close games, facing the toughest competition, for example -- and didn't see any change in that process.

For good measure, when Sabato was asked about his plate discipline training on his call with the media on Tuesday night, he launched into a detailed explanation about how he tracked colored baseballs out of a pitching machine and called out pitches and locations to his hitting coach in order to train his eye to better see the ball out of the hand.

"It's clear that he put a lot of time and effort into his process," Fergus said. "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 only way he's better is if he's a 6.4 runner and plays shortstop and throws 95 mph across the diamond."

Sabato is the third of the Twins' 2020 draftees to sign with the team, with fifth-round pick Kala'i Rosario the only newcomer yet to officially come to an agreement. The Twins have used $4.06 million of their allocated bonus pool of $4.53 million for their 2020 signees. The No. 158 pick for Rosario is valued at $330,100.