May 7, 2020

Aaron Sabato, hitting in backyard, may be first-rounder in MLB Draft


It’s like old times in the Sabato household.

At all hours of the day, you can hear bat on ball, ball being mashed into the net. The novel coronavirus pandemic ended Aaron Sabato’s sophomore season at North Carolina prematurely, but it can’t stop him from working.

A decade after Ted Sabato surprised his family by building a $5,000 batting cage in the backyard of its Rye Brook home, it has come in particularly handy, enabling Aaron, a highly regarded power-hitting draft prospect, and his older brother Teddy to stay sharp.

“I got nothing but time right now,” Aaron said in a phone interview with The Post. “It gives me an advantage.”

That cage and the work ethic the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Aaron got from his father and older brother are why the hulking first baseman is in such an enviable position, as a potential first-round pick in next month’s 2020 MLB Draft after he was named the Collegiate Baseball’s Co-National Freshman of the Year last spring. He led the Tar Heels in batting average (.343), hits (79), doubles (25), RBI (63) and slugging percentage (.696) while setting a school record for most home runs by a freshman with 18. He is ranked 35th among all draft-eligible prospects by Baseball America and 41st by MLB Pipeline

“Devastating he couldn’t repeat what he did last year,” said his brother Teddy, a redshirt junior pitcher for Manhattan College who started his career at North Carolina.

Which is where the cage comes in. Ted, a baseball player himself in his day at Mercy College, saw something special in both sons at a young age, which is why he built the batting cage. He wanted to give them every opportunity to excel.

Aaron Sabato
Aaron SabatoUNC Athletic Communications

When he initially broke ground, the family was uncertain what he was building. He wanted to keep it a secret.

“My wife was getting happy, thinking I was going to put a pool in,” he recalled with a laugh.

Soon, it became evident Valerie Sabato would be disappointed, though she got plenty of use out of it too as a still-active softball player. His sons were thrilled. Instead of video games, their free time was spent in the cage. When rain canceled games or practices, they could always get in extra work. During the winter, Ted would shovel out snow so they could hit.

“You want to be good?” he would ask them. “You gotta get ahead of the curve. We got a field here.”

“They’ll say I’m relentless,” Ted said.

Aaron, 20, would frequently play up in age as a kid on Teddy’s teams, more than holding his own against kids two or three years older. But it wasn’t until he really branched out and began playing with the Georgia-based 5 Star Baseball (then named Chain Baseball) travel team that his talent became indisputable. Andy Burress, the program’s director, saw him hit a monster home run and sought him out. That entire summer, Aaron lived with Burress in Georgia, and by the time he returned for his sophomore year of high school, Teddy could see a stark difference.

The batting cage at the home of Ted Sabato, Aaron's father
The batting cage at the home of Ted Sabato, Aaron’s fatherTed Sabato

“We had seven Division I players on my [high school] team and I didn’t see kids hit the ball like [him],” 22-year-old Teddy said. “I went to college and now my brother is a [high school] junior. Again, he’s hitting the baseball out of the park and the ball is coming off his bat so hard. This is not normal. Kids don’t do this.”

It is what landed Aaron a scholarship to play baseball at North Carolina and has made him into such an intriguing prospect, a player one major league scout compared to Mets slugger Pete Alonso. He’s shown the exit velocity to prove it.

The summer before his senior year of high school at the Perfect Game National Showcase Event, he broke Bryce Harper’s event record with a batted ball at 103 mph. As a freshman at North Carolina, he hit a homer at 114 mph that went 436 feet.

“There are similarities, as far as the way you grade them out. They are very similar,” the scout said. “He’s got some of the most power in the draft.”

The shortened season, though, could end up hurting him, the scout said, because he didn’t play at all last summer due to injury and really only had one year of college baseball to be evaluated. It is a pitching-heavy draft, though, which could work in his favor. Sabato also could return to school, if his financial requests aren’t met.

“If it’s a perfect fit for me and my family, it’s definitely something I’ll do,” he said of going pro.

For now, Aaron said he is excited about what lies ahead, the daily workouts in the backyard with his brother and father, getting to be around family and, in five weeks, the draft. His world could change forever. His lifelong dreams may be realized.

“It’s kind of hard to believe I’m in this position,” said Aaron, a Yankees fan who grew up idolizing Alex Rodriguez. “It’s been something I’ve always wanted my entire life.”

Added his father: “I’m still pinching myself.”

This journey truly began a decade ago, when his father broke ground in the backyard. The batting cage provided an opportunity Aaron has made the most of, instilling determination and work ethic that has stayed with him.

“It’s probably the best thing I did,” Ted said.



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