116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The question to Aaron Sabato elicited a bit of a chuckle from him.
What do you have to do, Aaron, to get up out of here and to Double-A?
Not that anyone around here wants to see the Cedar Rapids Kernels first baseman leave anytime soon. It’s fun to watch a player like Sabato show off the stereotypical light-tower power he has in his bat.
But the 2020 first-round draft pick out of the University of North Carolina needs to be at Wichita at some point this season to keep on a good development path with the parent Minnesota Twins.
“I think it just speaks for itself,” Sabato answered. “You’ve got to hit your way to the next level.”
The 22-year-old from Rye, N.Y., had a sort of weird rookie season in professional baseball.
He began at low-Class A Fort Myers, where he hit just .189 in 107 games. He struck out 117 times in 286 at-bats, certainly not an optimum number, especially for a guy from a big-time college program who set a freshman school record for homers with 18 in 2019.
But the Twins decided to move him to Cedar Rapids the final month of the 2021 season, and Sabato responded. He still struck out a lot (32 times in 75 at-bats), but the batting average improved (.253) and he hit eight homers in 22 games.
A center-field approach seemed to be the key.
“I’m ecstatic by it,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you want to build on, keep going, take it into the offseason, take it into spring training and obviously now into the season starting on Friday.”
The Kernels began the 2022 Midwest League season Friday night at home against the Beloit Sky Carp. The teams are scheduled to play again Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:05.
“He had a good finish with us last year,” said Kernels Manager Brian Dinkelman. “I know Fort Myers didn’t go as well for him, but he finished strong with us. This spring, especially the last week or so (in spring training), he has been really good at the plate. Just continue to hit for power, still take his walks, maybe put a few more balls into play, play defense like he does at first, and he’ll be out of here to Double-A.”
Sabato has been a three-true-outcome guy, those outcomes being homers, walks and strikeouts. He had 92 bases on balls in his 107 total games last season, so he has strike-zone knowledge.
“I think if I really want to get out of here, it’s just going to be (about) can I keep my confidence every day?” he said. “Can I not beat myself up on one 0-for-3 day? Take little wins even though you’re 0-for-3. Did I swing at the right pitches, did I not swing at the right pitches? Did I not swing at the wrong pitches? Am I doing a lot of damage? Am I consistently putting the ball in play? Because I think when I put the ball in play, I can do a lot of damage, more than other people.
“I’m blessed to have the power. In order to get to the power, you’ve got to hit the ball first. So it’s one of those things where if I can put the ball in play consistently, I can get out of here pretty quickly.”
Sabato admitted his struggles at Fort Myers wore on him, as you’d expect. Baseball is a game of failure, and how you deal with that is of the utmost importance.
The added pressure of being a first-round pick is real, too.
“I was missing a lot in zone,” he said. “One thing I wanted to do, I didn’t chase a whole lot, but I wasn’t hitting a lot in the zone. So I tried to be more aggressive, tried to get more swings off ... Try to work on more bat-to-ball things through the middle. Don’t get too pull happy. Just little things like that.”
He talked about the importance of being able to shake off bad at-bats, bad games, learn from them and adjust accordingly. “Stay clean between the ears,” he said.
“The biggest thing for me (in spring training) was just to keep an even keel,” Sabato said. “Trying to just take one day at a time, work on my body, work on my routine, stay healthy, stay prepared. Be confident. Try not to think about where you’re going to go, what’s going to happen. Just play baseball, a game I love, every day.”
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