116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The batting average with him is rather insignificant.
If you want to know if Aaron Sabato of the Cedar Rapids Kernels is doing the things the parent Minnesota Twins drafted him for in the first round last year, you need to focus on his slugging percentage and his OPS (on base plus slugging).
Those are much more of a true indicator of a player’s value to most organizations in today’s baseball. Clubs want dudes who will draw a few walks but more importantly drive the ball for home runs and extra bases.
That’s the main reason Sabato was taken with the 27th-overall pick of the 2020 Major League Baseball Draft.
“The biggest thing for me is not about how you start, it’s how you finish,” said Sabato, whose Kernels hosted Quad Cities in the fourth game of their six-game series Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. “You don’t have to always look at what you’re hitting, what you’re doing, as long as you keep grinding and going. There are a lot of things that go with it than just (batting) average. If you’re being consistent, if you’re putting the ball in play, if you are taking your walks, are you doing what you can do?
“For me, that’s what it’s been about. You don’t number chase. You go out and play your game.”
Sabato is a well-put-together 6-foot-2, 230-pound first baseman out of the University of North Carolina. He set the school freshman record for home runs with 18 in 2019 and mashed seven more in 19 games before COVID canceled last season.
His pro debut was at big-league spring training in March, and he stayed in Fort Myers, Fla., to begin his rookie season with the low-A Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. Things haven’t gone altogether swimmingly, though Sabato hit five homers in 14 August games for Fort Myers and was promoted to the high-A Kernels.
He is 5-for-26 in eight games with Cedar Rapids, with all of those hits for extra bases: three doubles and two home runs. That included one over the batter’s eye in center field last week against Beloit, showing you the raw power the Twins covet.
“The bat definitely has some power in it,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “He’s had a nice second half of the year, driving the baseball and taking some walks. I think strikeouts are always going to be part of his game, but he’s done a nice job here for us the first week (and a half).”
Sabato’s season batting average is .189 in 93 games, which isn’t optimal. But he has drawn 80 walks, which helps offset the average and his high strikeout total of 130 in 312 at-bats.
His OPS is .738. Anything over .800 is considered good.
“The game is about how consistent can you be day in and day out,” he said. “In order to be great, you’ve got to be consistently good first. So I think for me, that’s what it is. Can I make that jump of putting the ball in play more, especially as I go up the ranks? Like going from low-A to high-A, if I can show I can put the ball in play more consistently, that’s a win for me.”
Sabato said the pandemic hurt him in that he wasn’t able to get the necessary live at-bats he needed to be properly prepared for his pro debut. He said he and his family are moving from Rye, N.Y., to Chapel Hill, N.C., in the offseason, which he thinks will help solve the live at-bats problem.
He was asked what he considered to be the optimal Aaron Sabato. Is it a guy who hits .250 with 30 bombs and a number of walks, or something else?
“I think the Aaron Sabato of a couple of months ago would have answered that question,” he said. “But for me now, where I’m at mentally, those numbers don’t mean anything. If I go out there and really just do simple things like swing at strikes, take balls and hit the ball like nobody else can, that’s the only thing I can do. If I put the ball in play, it’s usually the ball being hit hard, it’s homers and extra-base hits, and that’s what I know I can do.
“That’s what I got drafted to do. It’s just being more consistent. If I put the bat on the ball, I can hit it just as hard as anybody in professional baseball. So that’s the biggest thing for me. Put the bat on the ball and hit it like nobody else can.”
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