Twins Prospect Aaron Sabato on Mashing (and Hopefully Not DHing)

Aaron Sabato went in the first round last summer because of his bat. As Eric Longenhagen wrote when putting together our Minnesota Twins Top Prospects list, “teams were about as sure of Sabato’s hitting ability as they were of any player’s in the 2020 draft.” An accomplished slugger at the University of North Carolina, the 21-year-old first baseman is a masher with an admirable offensive ceiling.

Defense is the question mark. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, Sabato is built for power and not speed, with some pundits already projecting him as a DH. The Rye, New York native’s take on that opinion might be best-expressed as, “Not so fast.” Sabato sees himself as a more-than-capable fielder who can help his team on both sides of the ball. As for what he can do with a bat in his hands, let’s just say that he agrees with the scouting community. Sabato isn’t cocky, but he certainly doesn’t lack confidence.

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David Laurila: You were a middle infielder in high school, and now there are people projecting you as a designated hitter. What are your thoughts on that?

Aaron Sabato: “Guys read the height and weight, then they’re, ‘Oh, he played shortstop a couple years ago and now he’s on a corner at first base; he must be trending toward DH.’ I don’t see it that way at all. My feet move really well, my hands are really good. If you watch me — my actions and the way my body moves — you’ll know that I’m not a DH. Obviously, I’m not going back to the middle of the infield, but whether it’s third or first — I know it’ll most likely be first — I can play a corner. I think I proved to the coaches, and the staff, down in instructs that they didn’t draft a DH. They drafted a guy who could field, maybe an at elite level.”

Laurila: How big were you in high school?

Sabato: “My weight wasn’t as high — I was probably 215 — but I was chubbier. I grew an inch or two in college, and I also thinned out.”

Laurila: How were you playing shortstop as a “chubbier” kid? Were you at a small school?

Sabato: “No. And when I said I was chubbier, that’s compared to how I am now. It didn’t mean I couldn’t move. I played three sports in high school — it was a private school in Connecticut — and I was always athletic. I was one of the better basketball players at our school, and one of the better football players. For me, it was all about competition. I played second base for two years, then when the senior finally graduated and there was an opening at shortstop, I wanted that spot. I proved that I could [handle] it. That’s really all that matters.”

“Like I said, I could always move. I was always really athletic, and still am. That’s what gets me when people see a bigger guy and they’re like, ‘Oh, he’s got to be playing first,’ or ‘Oh, he’s going to be a DH.’ They overlook the athleticism part. I can dunk a basketball. I mean, that athleticism doesn’t just go away.”

Laurila: That said, your calling card is obviously your bat. If I’m remembering the quote correctly, [Twins President of Baseball Operations] Derek Falvey called you a student of hitting.

Sabato: “I try to educate myself, so yeah, you can say that’s studying. But I really just want to learn about what I do. For me, I don’t face the pitcher in an at-bat; I face the ball that’s being thrown. It doesn’t matter who’s on the mound; I have to hit that white ball, no matter what. Whether it comes in at 80 [mph], or it comes in at 100, doesn’t really matter. Obviously, pitches have different movement, but I strive to educate myself on what I do best.

“In simplified terms, it’s ‘swing at strikes and take balls.’ Don’t be overanxious. When you watch big-league hitters, the guys who separate themselves, yeah, they can hit every pitch, but they don’t miss the mistakes. That’s what makes them great. I want to make sure that if the pitcher misses with a fastball down the middle, or he misses in my hot zone, or he hangs a curveball or a changeup, he’s going pay for it. I need to do damage on those mistakes. That’s my job.”

Laurila: Is your approach basically to hunt fastballs middle and adjust from there?

Sabato: “It’s hunting mistakes and strikes. You don’t want to swing at the pitcher’s best pitches. That goes for any hitter. You’re not going to be successful doing that. For me, it’s being patient, yet not too patient. I can’t be not swinging it fastballs that are in my hot zone, so it’s about being prepared on every pitch, knowing that if a mistake is coming, I’m ready for it. That and being disciplined enough to lay off certain pitches that might be a strike, but aren’t something I’m going to be able to do a whole lot with.”

Laurila: Circling back to what you said about facing pitches and not pitchers, I assume that you want to know what a guy’s go-tos and tendencies are?

Sabato: “100%. I mentioned movement earlier, and what I do is kind of limit it to things like, ‘OK, this guy’s fastball has some run,’ or ‘This guy’s fastball has some cut’ — little mental notes like that. If it’s a righty with cut, I need to move my sites more in to the plate, because if I look out over the plate that ball is going to run off.

“When I said I’m not facing the pitcher, what I meant is that when you’re facing the Gerrit Coles of the world, you don’t want to get in your own head. Yeah, you’re facing the pitches that Gerrit Cole throws, but if you start looking at the name, you might end up thinking, ‘Oh, man, it’s Gerrit Cole; I may not have a shot.’ So I don’t care who’s throwing. It doesn’t matter, because they’re all throwing the same baseball.”

Laurila: One of the things Eric Longenhagen said in your prospect profile was, “takes full-body rips but still has acute barrel control”…

Sabato: “Yeah. I mean, I know that if I barrel up a ball, I’m going to do a whole lot of damage. I know my swing. It’s powerful. It’s compact and efficient. So with ‘acute barrel control,’ it’s about being disciplined. I know I can’t swing at pitches where it’s less likely that I’ll be able to barrel the ball up.”

Laurila: Do you agree with “takes full body rips”?

Sabato: “That kind of goes back to the athleticism thing. You see a guy hit for power and you think it takes a lot. But I would never leave a swing off the table. When I swing, I swing, but it’s really meticulous. When you break it down… I pride myself on it. I want it to be picture perfect. So yeah, it may look like a whole lot, but I’m also 6-foot-2, 230, and when a guy my size takes a swing like that, it’s not going to look easy because of how much power I’m driving. I think that’s what separates me from a lot of other guys. When that ball hits the barrel, I can put up numbers that a lot of them don’t. That’s part of why people think it’s a full-body rip.”

Laurila: How much has your swing changed over the years? For instance, if I looked at film of you in high school and compared it to today, would I see the same hitter?

Sabatao: “It’s definitely different, but at the same time, my swing doesn’t change a whole lot. I’m really in my legs, and my hands are already back. I don’t have the big leg kick. I guess you could say that I’m preset. It’s just always how I’ve been; my swing is very simple.

“But back in high school, my hands… my barrel was probably more up. Like straight. And I didn’t really use my body really well. My load was very rigid. I’ve really learned to be in my legs more, make my movements smooth, make my hand-load smooth. I’ve made my base look a lot more powerful. My base is wide, but not crazy wide. It’s just enough that I’m in the ground and feeling the earth in my feet.”

Laurila: To close, what is the organization telling you about conditioning and what they see as your ideal weight?

Sobato: “Not much, really. They just want my body to be strong, but also move well. Weight is just a number. If you watch me in the field, you’d be like, ‘He moves like a guy who is 15-20 pounds lighter.’ I can be athletic out there, on defense and at the plate.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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Great interview – although Sabato is biased in favor of himself (not a bad thing), he seems like a decent fielder from what I have seen. He seems like one of those players that doesn’t necessarily have the typical look of an athlete, but is, in fact, a good athlete.