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Thursday January 21st

Analysis: How former UNC baseball player Aaron Sabato can fit in with his new team

<p>Freshman Aaron Sabato (19) bats for the Tar Heels during UNC’s 12-4 win over Davidson on April 10, 2019 at Boshamer Stadium.</p>
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Freshman Aaron Sabato (19) bats for the Tar Heels during UNC’s 12-4 win over Davidson on April 10, 2019 at Boshamer Stadium.

After June 23, Aaron Sabato could say his dream to become a professional baseball player was realized, as the former Tar Heel officially joined the Minnesota Twins.

Minnesota took Sabato with the 27th pick in the MLB draft, and the first baseman inked a deal with a $2.75 million signing bonus, officially ending his career in Chapel Hill.

Sabato’s first-year campaign was one for the record books. With a .343 batting average, 79 hits and 63 RBIs, Sabato was a major contributor in the middle of North Carolina's batting order. With 18 home runs on the season, Sabato set a UNC first-year record. 

Despite a slow start to 2020, Sabato’s final six games — before the spread of COVID-19 ended the season — rivaled any six-game stretch in collegiate baseball. Sabato smashed six home runs, drove in 10 runs, hit .450 and slugged 1.400 in the final six games. His .656 on-base percentage led UNC, and he struck out just three times in his final 20 at-bats while drawing 12 walks.

The former All-American hit .332 with 81 RBIs and 25 home runs in his 83 games with North Carolina. 

When he was drafted, some scouts compared Sabato to New York Mets rookie sensation Pete Alonso. Frame, position and raw power are all similarities between the two young sluggers.

In 2019, Minnesota finished top five in most offensive categories. The Twins scored the second most runs with 939, finished second in hits with 1,547, fourth in doubles with 318 and notched an MLB-best 307 home runs and 906 RBIs.

For the high-powered offensive juggernaut that Minnesota is, Sabato should fit in nicely. He has shown impressive plate discipline with the ability to turn contact into deep blasts on a consistent basis. 

Right now, Sabato is projected to play first base, but could see time as a designated hitter. Minnesota boasts a farm system with a plethora of pitching and a lack of depth at first base. The MLB ranked Minnesota’s top 30 prospects ― nine of which are infielders  ― with the only potential first baseman out of the group being the No. 2 prospect, Alex Kirilloff, who plays with Twins Double-A affiliate.

Minnesota has a designated hitter in Nelson Cruz who may have found the fountain of youth somewhere in Target Field. In his age 39 season, Cruz hit .311 with 41 home runs and 108 RBIs. Cruz also slugged a career-best .639 with a .392 on-base percentage.

Sabato may not get time in the DH spot early on, but with Cruz's retirement looming in the near future, Sabato could find a spot in the Twins batting lineup due to his absence.

In 2019, Minnesota used a platoon of players at first base, so there is a need for for a young power hitter to rise through the ranks and fill that hole.

If Sabato impresses in the Gulf Coast League and ascends the ladder of minor league ball, expect him to be an impact hitter in the professional ranks.

@A_ReynoldsDTH

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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