For Aaron Sabato, the 2020 season was supposed to be another breakout campaign, similar to his freshman year at North Carolina where he became one of the best right-handed power hitters in baseball. The shutdown of college athletics following the coronavirus pandemic put that season to an end.
But the shutdown won’t stop Sabato from being an early-round selection in Wednesday’s MLB Draft, which is proceeding despite baseball being at an impasse on whether or not to start a 2020 season.
I wrote a little bit about Sabato last week, detailing how he will almost certainly be the first Tar Heel taken in the 2020 draft, as well as some of the impressive numbers he put up in only 83 games in Chapel Hill. The sophomore from New York slashed .332/.459/.698 in his Tar Heel career, totaling 31 doubles, 25 home runs, and 81 RBI.
So far in the draft process, Sabato has gotten comparisons to another first baseman who plays in New York, Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. Not only do the two have similar builds, but they both had very similar numbers in each of their respective best seasons in college, Sabato’s freshman year, and Alonso’s junior year. The former Florida Gator played a lot of third base in college, but he did transition to first base in the majors.
For Sabato in the majors, what might be best for him would be getting drafted an American League organization, which would allow him to be a designated hitter at some point down the road. He isn’t the best fielder, which is demonstrated by his .981 fielding percentage in 2019. But he did improve some in the shortened 2020 season, committing only one error in 19 games.
That doesn’t mean he can’t play first base in the big leagues. Working with coaches full time will be a big help in making him a better defensive third baseman. This opens him up for consideration from many National League teams that could be in the market for a power-hitting first baseman down the road.
Here are the best potential landing spots for Sabato in the draft in the late first round, early second-round range:
Atlanta Braves (25th overall)
I wrote briefly last week how the Braves would be a good spot for Sabato, but the pairing really is perfect. The timeline for college players breaking into the big leagues is around 2-3 years. The current first baseman of the Braves, Freddie Freeman, is 31 now. The timelines seem to match up for a young first baseman to come in and replace him. Sabato could be that guy.
This is likely to be the beginning of the first baseman’s range in the draft. There is a small chance he could go a little earlier, but I don’t see him coming off the board until 25th overall at the earliest.
New York Yankees (28th overall)
The Yankees have a real lack of first base prospects in their system, not having a single one in their MLB.com top-30 prospects list. Their first base situation at the big league level isn’t great either, with Luke Voit being the main man there.
You don’t pass up on a big bat like Sabato because of a guy like Voit. The Yankees could bring Sabato into an organization who has a strong track record of developing power bats in recent years. The chance of being a designated hitter is also a thing in New York, but with the power bats the Yankees already have, it’s doubtful he would be put there immediately.
This would be a chance for Sabato, a New York native, to go home. This seems like a perfect fit.
Kansas City Royals (32nd overall and 41st overall)
The Royals will have two chances pretty close to each other to take Sabato. The Royals have long had plenty of power hitters on their roster and this would be another chance to add a young one. The first base situation within the organization is bleak here as well, but like the Yankees, there is the opportunity to be a designated hitter.
The Royals have Jorge Soler already, but the need for more power bats is never-ending in today’s game. The Royals aren’t likely to compete for the playoffs for a couple more years following a rebuild, which makes the timelines for the two parties match up.
Tampa Bay Rays (37th overall)
The Rays are almost in the same situation as the Yankees, in that they currently are fine at first base, but they don’t have a franchise player that would keep Sabato away from the position.
But Sabato’s power would play well in the most powerful division in baseball, the AL East, where he would be a part of the arms race with the Yankees and Red Sox. But even from a talent development standpoint, the Rays are among the best in the league in creating homegrown talent.
When projecting Sabato long term, there aren’t many better places for him to go than Tampa Bay.
Stay with Tar Heel Blog for updates heading into the MLB Draft on Wednesday.