Following the five-round 2020 MLB First-Year Player Draft, MiLB.com takes an organization-by-organization look at each pick with help from team scouting executives.
Specific Draft classes seldom match the personality of the big league squad. Often, players selected by a given team could have contrasting tools that might help plug some holes within a farm system. But in this abbreviated Draft, the Twins, who hit a record 307 homers at the Major League level last year, summoned yet more power.
At the prospect level, the Twins already boast an excess of high-level position players. Their top three prospects, Royce Lewis (No. 9 overall), Alex Kirilloff (No. 32) and Trevor Larnach (No. 81), were first-round picks in consecutive years.
Minnesota has selected hitters with its first pick in each of the past five Drafts. There’s already plenty there for the Twins to continue building around, and this Draft class adds to that strength.
Minnesota came into this Draft with a comfortable $4,528,600 bonus pool. They traded their Compensation Round B pick in the deal that landed right-hander Kenta Maeda from the Dodgers and forfeited their third-round selection to sign third baseman Josh Donaldson. As of Wednesday, all but one of their four Draft picks have signed, and there’s room left in the budget for the last domino to ink a deal over slot value.
First round (No. 27): Aaron Sabato, first baseman, North Carolina – For all the hitting talent the Twins have in the Minors, it’ll be difficult to find someone who can match Sabato’s raw power.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound bruiser bashed 18 homers as a freshman at Chapel Hill and went deep seven times in 19 games during this pandemic-shortened season. Sabato drove in 81 runs and compiled a .332/.459/.698 line in barely a year and a half of college. While his power might be a little louder than his hit tool, the Twins were drawn to his overall plate approach.
“We like his swing, we like his mental approach to the game, to hitting,” amateur scouting director Sean Johnson said. “He's a very confident hitter. He has a great plan at the plate already. He's got a really workable swing. It's a really tight swing with good movements with good direction. He's got power to all fields and so we just like that as an option in the back of the first round. We thought he was the best offensive player left on the board.”
Johnson got a sense of Sabato’s hitting philosophy during a Zoom call, which Sabato said took place with Johnson, Minor League hitting coordinator Donegal Fergus and area scout Ty Dawson. Despite limited opportunities to see him play live because of the shutdown, Johnson said he had video of nearly all of his college at-bats and was able to get a thorough look at him.
One of the things the Twins staff was drawn to was Sabato’s plate discipline. He walked 61 times at North Carolina and showed an ability to lay off chase pitches and punish mistakes.
“It's clear that he put a lot of time and effort into his process," Fergus told MLB.com. "He was really good. For me, that's a huge part of what I'm looking for. I've got to work with this kid and I've got to have our staff work with this kid. Does he think in a way that's going to fit in with our style and our philosophy? He's a perfect fit. He's perfect for what we are trying to do.”
Sabato’s bat can carry him to the Majors, but he's limited to first base defensively and must continue to improve there. While the Twins have plenty of first base and designated hitter options on the big league roster, it's something of a position of need in the Minors.
Sabato already signed an over-slot deal for a reported $2.75 million.
Second round (No. 59): Alerick Soularie, outfielder, Tennessee – There are many routes a player can take to professional baseball. Soularie’s is among the least common. The 6-foot, 170-pound outfielder went undrafted out of high school in 2017, mashed at a Texas junior college the following year, then followed a family friend, who happened to be a Division I baseball coach, to two different Southeastern Conference programs.
Although he followed a strange path, Soularie’s ability to put his bat on the ball remained consistent. He was a power-speed threat with 10 homers and 23 steals while hitting .402 at San Jacinto Junior College. He led the SEC with a .466 on-base percentage his first season with the Vols last year and already went deep five times before the shutdown this spring.
“Really displayed a lot of bat-to-ball skills, ability to control the strike zone, even going all the way back to San Jac, more walks than strikeouts -- [that’s] a big thing for us that we're into,” Johnson said. “He's still able to get the power. … He had a monster year last year in the SEC, which is always a nice thing to look at from a prospect perspective.”
Some scouts question Soularie’s defensive tools, saying he lacks the athleticism to stick in center field and the arm strength to play a corner spot. He played some second and first base for Tennessee, and Johnson believes his player development staff can find the proper spot for him on the field.
“It seems like he's taking a beating, like he can't play defense. I don't get that,” Johnson said. “He's plenty good in the corner. … We're confident he'll end up in the outfield. And maybe some second base deserves some exploration. And we'll see where it goes.”
Soularie already signed an under-slot deal for a reported $900,000.
Fourth round (No. 128): Marco Raya, right-handed pitcher, United South (Texas) HS -- The COVID-19 pandemic already made for abnormal Draft and scouting appearances. But one of the stranger things that stood out to Johnson were his spring travels.
“I didn't spend one day in California this spring, but I spent a day in Laredo, Texas,” he said. “Which is not the norm.”
What he saw in Raya was a 17-year-old with an easy delivery and four-pitch mix that features a mid-90s fastball as well as a changeup, curveball and slider. His fastball and breaking pitches all could become plus offerings.
“We had really good evaluations, we all liked him, we all thought he could evolve into a starter,” Johnson said. “He's a really solid athlete. He's got really good delivery, really good arm action. And he's got four pitches now, and we think ... he's not the biggest kid out there, but he is athletic and he's got a chance to fill out.”
Johnson said he felt that Raya was a couple years from being a first-round talent had he honored his commitment to Texas Tech. But the 6-foot, 165-pounder instead signed an under-slot deal for a reported $410,000.
Fifth round (No. 158): Kala’i Rosario, outfielder, Waiakea (Hawaii) HS – Sabato and Soularie account for enough power for that tool to be a theme in the Twins' Draft class. Adding Rosario to the mix makes it the main ingredient.
Red Sox third-rounder Blaze Jordan gained cult hero status and internet fame for hitting baseballs very long distances before his teenage years. But in last year’s Area Code Games Home Run Derby, it was Rosario who stole Jordan’s crown.
“I don't think we went into the Draft saying, 'Let's take a bunch of power bats,' that's just kind of how the board fell,” Johnson said. “Rosario has got really advanced raw power for his age. He's a good athlete for his size, he moves very well now.”
Johnson believes Rosario’s defensive future is a corner outfield spot. He also was also impressed by his makeup and work ethic.
“Another guy we got to connect with. Really love the kid, his background, his desire to work, his curiosity to improve,” Johnson said. “We think there's some things we can optimize in his swing yet. But his power doesn't grow on trees and we were really excited about him being in the fifth round.”
Rosario is the only Twins' pick yet to sign with the club as of Wednesday.
Overall outlook: The Bomba Squad rides on. This Draft class is headlined by power, but what will set it apart will be how those hitters develop their other tools. Raya is a good, young addition to a system that’s not short on pitching, but the average age of the hurlers in their Top 30 prospects is 22.54. Happily for the Twins, Johnson didn’t seem hampered by scouting limitations caused by the pandemic. He cited video and Rapsodo technology, among others, as tools that helped his staff round out evaluations.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @Gerard_Gilberto.