St. Augustine's Gatto leads area's draft prospects

Three of South Jersey's top pitchers this season will be (from left) Gloucester Catholic righthander John Murphy, Bishop Eustace lefthander Devin Smeltzer, and St. Augustine righthander Joey Gatto. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Three of South Jersey's top pitchers this season will be (from left) Gloucester Catholic righthander John Murphy, Bishop Eustace lefthander Devin Smeltzer, and St. Augustine righthander Joey Gatto. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Posted: June 06, 2014

Joey Gatto remembers when he started dreaming about playing professional baseball.

"Little League," said Gatto, senior at St. Augustine Prep in Richland, Atlantic County.

That dream could become reality for Gatto as soon as Thursday night, since he is projected as a late-first-round or second-round pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

A righthander with a fastball that has reached 95 m.p.h. on radar guns, Gatto is ranked the No. 42 overall prospect by Baseball America and the No. 43 prospect by MLB.com.

"When every player starts in Little League, it's their dream to become a professional, and I know it was mine," Gatto said Sunday night after spending the weekend working out for the Cubs in Chicago and the Royals in Kansas City. "That dream can become a reality for me on Thursday."

Gatto is a University of North Carolina recruit but is likely to sign with a major-league team if he is selected around his projection. The bonus allotment is $1.35 million for the 42d pick and $1.31 million for the 43d.

"I'm extremely excited for Thursday, and so is my family," said the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Gatto, a Hammonton resident who will turn 18 on June 14.

Other South Jersey high school players who could be drafted are Delsea righthander Bryan Dobzanski, ranked by Baseball America as the No. 263 prospect; Bishop Eustace lefthander Devin Smeltzer; Eastern infielder Tom Flacco; and Highland outfielder Kyle Stinson.

Possible picks from Southeastern Pennsylvania include Neumann-Goretti first baseman Josh Ockimey (committed to Indiana) and Devon Prep righthander Zach Schellenger (Seton Hall).

Dobzanski, a Louisville recruit, and Smeltzer, a Florida Gulf Coast recruit, could drift down in the draft even though they are regarded as middle-round prospects, since they are not likely to sign for middle-round money because of their college opportunities.

The 6-3, 225-pound Ockimey, who worked out for the Phillies twice recently at Citizens Bank Park, is batting .515 (35 for 68) with 32 RBIs and 29 runs as Neumann-Goretti's No. 3 hitter. Boston, Miami, Minnesota, and St. Louis also have shown interest.

Despite being shelved since early April with a strained flexor muscle, the 6-6, 205-pound Schellenger might be selected. He throws a fastball that has topped out at 94 m.p.h.

From the college ranks, possible draftees from Southeastern Pennsylvania are Liberty third baseman-first baseman Ryan Seiz (Christopher Dock graduate), Pittsburgh righthander Joe Harvey (Kennedy-Kenrick), St. Joseph's righthander Jordan Carter (Methacton), and Rutgers outfielder Brian O'Grady (Archbishop Wood).

Gatto was 7-1 this season with a 0.94 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 521/3 innings. Pitching in front of dozens of major-league scouts at every outing, Gatto was at his best late in the season, throwing four consecutive complete games and allowing a total of two runs in those starts.

"To see what he did pitching in front of sometimes 40 scouts, it was astounding to me," St. Augustine coach Mike Bylone said. "He embraced the moment."

Gatto is intriguing to scouts because of his athletic ability. With above-average speed, he batted leadoff for St. Augustine and hit .370 with a .455 on-base percentage and 11 stolen bases in 11 attempts. He also is a former football and basketball player for the Hermits.

"There's some talk he could slip into the back end of the first round," said an American League scout, who asked not to be identified. "But he's mostly likely a sandwich [between first and second round] or early second.

"He's got a great body. He's been up to 95 [m.p.h.]. He's got great arm action, and he's a good athlete."


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

www.inquirer.com/

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