By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 7, 2002
Aaron Sobieraj made an outstanding prep and college career for himself by being versatile.
If needed on the mound at Dunedin High, he took the ball. When Florida needed a leftfielder last season, he stepped in.
So it should come as little surprise to know he's now playing second base ... in Oregon.
After three successful seasons for the Gators, Sobieraj readied himself for a second crack at the draft. The call came in the 13th round.
With the 397th overall pick, the Giants wanted him. Badly, it turned out.
"I did my homework online and found I was the only second baseman drafted," Sobieraj said. "That was a really good opportunity, a good opportunity to play and start."
The Clearwater native is starting to take advantage of it, ranking among the leaders in on-base percentage for the short-season Salem-Keizer Volcanoes in the Northern League. He hopes it is the start of a long pro career.
Sobieraj (pronounced SO-ber-eye) was a standout at Dunedin, winning Times All-County Player of the Year honors after a senior year in which he hit .469 and scored 45 runs. Once the school's career RBI leader with 86 (the record has since been broken), Sobieraj parlayed his success into a spot at Florida.
While playing for the Gators, he enhanced his reputation as a reliable hitter, batting .361 as a freshman and .354 last season, with eight home runs and 57 RBIs.
He was selected in the 40th round of the draft by Arizona after high school, but stuck with a plan to attend Florida. After three years of college, however, he welcomed a shot in the draft and talked to a dozen teams.
"I was ready to move on. I knew what my fourth year (of college) would be like," said Sobieraj, who said he plans to eventually complete his degree. "I wanted to play ball every day."
He's getting that chance at second base, a position he had not handled regularly since his Dunedin days. At Florida, he played third base and pitched as a freshman, roamed all over the diamond as a sophomore and moved to the outfield as junior.
Pro scouts, however, saw the 21-year-old as an infielder with his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame.
"He has sweet hands and good footwork, I'm not surprised that San Francisco wanted him as an infielder," said Tony Ferreira, a Royals scout who lives in Clearwater and runs a baseball academy. "I can see him as a third baseman, a power hitter. All he's going to do is fill out."
Ferreira, a longtime minor-leaguer who had a cup of coffee with Kansas City in 1985, has worked with Sobieraj for a decade.
His salary is $850 a month, but in a few ways he's already emulating big-leaguers. Sobieraj has a pool table and PlayStation2 in his room, and drives a Mercedes. He doesn't own those things, but for $200 a month in rent they're available.
"I room with a couple guys at a host family's house, everybody on the team envies us," Sobieraj said. "The family is really nice ... and they have four Corvettes in the garage."
Sobieraj has found comfort at the house and on the team, with several other players with Florida ties. Karl Jernigan was a standout at Florida State, Anthony Turco attended Sarasota High and St. Petersburg College, and Alex Pinon is from Miami.
He avoids looking too far ahead, but Sobieraj said he hopes to move up to the advanced Class A team next year in San Jose, Calif. In the meantime, the Volcanoes' season lasts until September, then fall ball and winter time off in Clearwater with his family and girlfriend will likely follow.
"You know what? I got the opportunity to come up here and make a whole new life for myself," Sobieraj said. "It's really good -- you just sleep and play baseball, every day."