BLAKE SABOL, CATCHER
|Born: January 7, 1998
Drafted: 7th Round, 214th Overall, 2019
How Acquired: Draft
College: University of Southern California
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Sabol played both outfield and catcher in college, but scouts saw him more as an outfielder due to good speed and athleticism, and that’s how the Pirates announced him. His arm is regarded as fringy. He’s interested scouts due to good raw power, but he’s had trouble finding it in games, partly due to an impatient approach and partly due to a swing that fails to incorporate his lower half. Adjusting his swing will probably be an emphasis for him as a pro, but the Pirates haven’t shown much aptitude for helping hitters with that. His track record as a hitter at USC was consistent but not very good: he hit 267/302/356 as a freshman, 276/338/390 as a sophomore and 268/346/368 as a junior. He did improve his K:BB ratio in his last year to 40:29. Baseball America rated Sabol 174th among draft prospects and 16th in Southern California in an average year for the region. Sabol is a second cousin of former Steelers’ great Troy Polamalu. He signed for $43,500 above the slot value.
Sabol had a passable debut, hitting for a little above the league average line of 232/313/337. He drew a lot of walks, but had an extremely high K rate and hit for only modest power. He struggled against LHPs, with a .577 OPS against them compared to .767 against RHPs. He had a very good month of July, batting 312/382/455, but slumped to a .684 OPS in August. The Pirates tried Sabol at all three outfield spots, including seven starts in center, although he doesn’t take good routes.
The Pirates didn’t send Sabol to Bradenton until late May, possibly because he was working out at catcher. He played in 14 games there, half as DH and the rest split between catcher and left. He hit extremely well. Sabol moved up to Greensboro in early July. He started 25 games at catcher, 17 as DH and nine in left. He continued hitting the ball very well, including good power, although his K rate was very high. The Greensboro ballpark didn’t account for the power, has he hit seven of his 11 High A home runs on the road and overall hit a little better on the road. Sabol had a huge platoon split, crushing RHPs for a 1.041 OPS but managing only .622 against LHPs in a small sample size. At Greensboro, Sabol threw out 24% of base stealers, just a hair below league average. Throughout the season, once he was activated, Sabol sat out a lot of games. I don’t know why that was, if there were injury concerns or something else.
Sabol continued to improve, putting together a strong season at Altoona and getting better still at Indianapolis. For the Curve, he got off to a fast start, slumped in June, then got hot again and stayed that way. His plate discipline at Altoona wasn’t great, but by current standards it was fine. For the year, Sabol had only a mild platoon split, with a .778 OPS against LHPs and .878 against RHPs. With the Curve, who of course also had Endry Rodriguez and Henry Davis for parts of his time there, Sabol mostly caught and served as DH. At Indy, he started seven games behind the plate and 12 in left. Between the two spots, he threw out only 14% of base stealers.
Sabol is eligible for Rule 5 now. On any other team, he’d be a slam dunk to be added to the 40-man roster, but with the Pirates he has to battle through the hordes of older, below-replacement, no-upside waiver claims. He’d be easy for a team to carry all year because he’s probably major-league-ready now. Assuming the Pirates aren’t stupid enough to lose him, Sabol shouldn’t have to worry about getting blocked at catcher by Rodriguez and Davis because he’s a more promising hitter than most or all of their outfield prospects.
|2023: Minor league contract
|Signing Bonus: $250,000
MiLB Debut: 2019
MiLB FA Eligible: 2025
MLB FA Eligible:
Rule 5 Eligible: 2022
Added to 40-Man:
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|June 11, 2016: Drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 33rd round, 992nd overall pick.
June 4, 2019: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 7th round, 214th overall pick; signed on June 11.