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Aaron Sabato finishing on a high note


Many have been critical of the front office's first round picks and for good reason: they have yet to draft a player that rushes through the system and succeeds at the highest level. Early this season, it appeared Aaron Sabato was yet another name that was going to end up on the disappointment list. Thankfully, the first baseman has turned it around in the past month, slugging as was expected of him against lower minors competition... it makes sense that he scuffled early, given that he was drafted over a year ago but didn't play a MiLB game until May of this year.

It's against lower minors competition but the extra good news is that he has continued to rake against higher competition after being promoted to Cedar Rapids in late August. Here are his season splits:

2021 Player Batting Splits
Split G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
Total 105 459 357 67 71 18 0 19 57 1 0 91 149 .199 .370 .409 .779 146 2 8 0 3 1
                                               
May 23 107 80 10 11 4 0 2 7 0 0 24 40 .138 .355 .263 .618 21 1 3 0 0 0
June 25 107 82 19 19 5 0 1 10 0 0 24 27 .232 .411 .329 .740 27 1 1 0 0 0
July 22 94 76 9 14 4 0 1 9 1 0 18 30 .184 .340 .276 .617 21 0 0 0 0 0
August 20 85 69 15 15 5 0 9 19 0 0 11 31 .217 .353 .681 1.034 47 0 4 0 1 0
September 15 66 50 14 12 0 0 6 12 0 0 14 21 .240 .394 .600 .994 30 0 0 0 2 1
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 9/19/2021.
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It's nice to see Sabato at least putting up a few numbers which look decent. Had he not finished hot, I think he already would have been labeled a bust. His 20% BB rate is extremely high 7th of 505 A+ hitters with 90 plate appearances, but not as high as his 35% K rate in A+, though admittedly, I had no idea the K rates for A+ hitters was as disgusting as it is. Sabato's 35% doesn't even rank in the bottom 10%. He kind of comes across as a hitter who will wait for the meatball, but honestly, meatballs start getting scarce at the high minor league levels. He won't be able to succeed long term with that approach. 

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Baseball is a tough business, especially for the players. Everyone wants a shot and a bonus baby needs to go through the same trials as a last minute add. We sure hope Sabato keeps improving at each level. The White Sox received some valuable contributions from a somewhat similar player, Andrew Vaughan, this year. Sabato is early in his career; there's time.

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Here's Sabato, age 22 this year in high-A:

# Name Team Level Age PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO Spd BABIP wSB wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+
1 Aaron Sabato MIN A+ 97 19.6% 33.0% 0.59 .253 .402 .613 1.015 .360 2.2 .297 -0.2 21 8.1 .431 165

Here's Brent Rooker, age 22 in 2017 in high-A:

# Name Team Level Age PA BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO Spd BABIP wSB wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+
1 Brent Rooker MIN A+ 22 162 9.9% 29.0% 0.34 .280 .364 .552 .917 .273 1.2 .341 0.0 29 11.4 .415 166

Note that due to the minor league reorganization, Rooker's high-A experience was for Fort Myers in the Florida State League which is generally regarded as pitcher-friendly, while Sabato is in Cedar Rapids instead. Thus Fangraphs calculates their wRC+ as virtually the same despite Sabato having a 100 point advantage in OPS.

Rooker's K% was about 7.5 above the league rate; Sabato's, about 6.4. Sabato's league BB% is about 2.1 higher than Rooker's league too, although Sabato to his credit is blowing that difference away!

And while Sabato had a one year layoff due to the pandemic, he had 367 PA at A-ball this year to prepare for high-A. Rooker skipped A-ball in 2017, going directly from 99 PA in rookie ball to high-A.

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I'm not ready to label him a bust but I wonder if baseball is changing, yet again, where power might not be as important as hitting. I think we might be seeing baseball's hitters starting to react to pitching. The Twins added Martin in the Berrios trade and he was largely seen as a plus hitter with limited power and their first pick in the draft - Noah Miller - was a plus hitter as well, with limited power. 

 

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I have been as down on Sabato as anyone but am happy to see that 1.015 OPS at High A.  I think he still has a chance to be what he was supposed to be which is Rooker Part 2 with hopefully a better eye and slightly better contact skills. I know this FO is heavy into hard hit rate and OPS at the expense of batting average but we haven't seen that translate particularly well so far IMO.  

I think Gunnarthor makes a good point though.  I think it is better to find players with good to great hit tools and decent speed and help them gain power as they move up.  Lumbering players with great hard hit rates just are not as useful IMO.  Fine to have a few of those guys but this system has too many.

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As metrics evolve, baseball should continue to change over time. Teams will continue to chase undervalued players and as a result, the strategies will change, forcing baseball to change. I don't think it will change fast enough on its own, though. The obsession with strikeouts from pitchers is driving the never ending climb in strikeouts from hitters, at least according to Bill James. MLB needs to step in and fix some of the issues. The pitch clock will help, but I think a HBP should be a ground rule double as well.

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I'm glad to see Sabato finishing the season on a high note, but goodness he was so bad early on that the bar was low. the first 3 months of the season he had exactly one skill at the plate (and he's not a player that adds defensive value) and that was drawing walks. In A+ he finally started showing the ability to do damage with the ball when he made contact, but he still doesn't make enough of it. A slow start may have been predictable for him, but it lasted an awfully long time, which is much less good.

He was properly downgraded as a prospect midseason, and I'm not sure I expect much rise in the off-season when the ranking gets re-done again. I'm rooting for him, but right now he's got a long way to go and my expectations and confidence are fairly low.

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