It's not often you get the opportunity to play for your hometown team.

2014 St Augustine Prep graduate, Joe Gatto from Hammonton, is getting that opportunity this Spring Training with the Philadelphia Phillies.

"It’s definitely a unique experience," Gatto told me.

"Being able to play the game professionally has been a dream of mine ever since I was young, and playing for the Phillies is just like any other kid’s dream to play for their favorite team. So being able to have this opportunity is truly awesome and something I’m excited for. It's not something I ever thought would have happened just how my career has gone but luckily some of the chips fell in the right place and were able to get a deal done with them. Super excited for what the season has to hold."

Gatto is one of six pitchers who signed minor league contracts on Tuesday, with invitations to attend major league spring training as non-roster invitees.

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He will join Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bellatti, Tyler Cyr, Michael Kelly, and Jake Newberry, each signed minor league deals on Tuesday.

The former second-round pick by the Angels, got a major-league deal from the Texas Rangers after posting a 4.80 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, and 366 strikeouts in 448 1/3 total minor league innings with the Angles system.

"My career isn’t what I expected it to be looking back at my 18 year old self when I signed, but I wouldn’t want to change anything about it," Gatto admitted. "I’ve learned a lot, grew a ton and I think that’s an important part of this game."

While for many missing the 2020 COVID season hurt their progress, Gatto explained that missing the year was sort of the wake up call he needed.

"I was able to take a step back look at all the good I’ve done, continue to work with that and at the same time look at a ton of my weakness and start to pick them apart," explained Gatto. "I sort of re-wrote my narrative of the type of pitcher I am which helped me get the deal I signed last year and then proceed to have probably the best year of my career. So with that it’s just keeping the same mind set, game plan and trying to get better each day."

He pitched in 35 games in the Texas Rangers system in 2021, going 5-3 with a 3.32 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A affiliates last season.

Gatto joins fellow Hermit, Zach Warren, Holy Spirit alum Mike Adams and Ocean City alum Jake McKenna as local pitchers who will be in Clearwater at Phillies Spring Training this year.

"I think the obvious goal for me going into 2022 is getting to the big leagues which is the goal every year," said Gatto. "But more smaller goals for myself would be to just keep improving each day, and putting up even better numbers than last season and see where that puts us."

He has a real opportunity to find a role in the Phillies bullpen that should have some openings at Spring Training.  If he pitches well in Clearwater, who knows, maybe he can win a spot on the Opening Day roster.

From the Phillies press release:

  • Joe Gatto, RHP – Gatto, 26, was originally selected in the second round of the June 2014 draft by the Los Angeles Angels.  He pitched in the Texas Rangers organization last season and appeared in 35 games between double-A Frisco and triple-A Round Rock.  In those 35 appearances, he posted a 3.32 ERA with a 29.2% strikeout rate and 8.1% walk rate.  Born in Voorhees, N.J., Gatto is a 2014 graduate of St. Augustine College Preparatory School in Richland, N.J.

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