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Gatto deals well with MLB attention

Joe Gatto sees the radar guns and feels the heightened expectations, but all he is trying to do is make the next pitch.

Joe Gatto sees the radar guns and feels the heightened expectations, but all he is trying to do is make the next pitch.

It seems so simple, but this is a complex business, and Gatto is among the high school baseball players very much in the middle of a complex, yet exhilarating process.

A senior righthander at St. Augustine, Gatto is considered a prime prospect for the Major League Baseball draft, scheduled for June 5-7.

He has accepted a scholarship to the University of North Carolina, but whether he attends college will have a lot to do with where he is drafted and what kind of signing bonus he is offered.

And Gatto understands the business side of this, which is why he is embracing the process, as crazy as it can get at times.

"It's been fun and awesome so far," Gatto said. "And what is great with all the scouts coming to our games, it helps the team out because everybody wants to perform better in a situation like that."

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Gatto has the look that teams are seeking. He also has the fastball.

"We have had him between 92-95 [m.p.h.]," said a scout, who requested anonymity.

Those numbers would get anybody's attention.

In addition, Baseball America ranks Gatto as the 48th-best overall prospect in the country, and that includes both high school and college players.

MLB has recommended slot values for signing bonuses for all draft positions. The 48th spot is slotted at $1,158,000.

Teams can choose to give more or less than the slotted figure, but frequently, the player signs for around the slotted value.

Imagine being a high school player and having the chance to earn $1 million.

That's not to say that Gatto will be the 48th player selected, but the fact that the nation's leading publication on the draft thinks so highly of him certainly doesn't hurt.

During the winter, Gatto spent considerable time meeting with scouts, filling out countless questionnaires.

Since MLB teams make such huge investments in draft choices, especially those selected in or near the first round, they want a full profile on the player.

"They want to see how you are as a person, how your family life is, everything about you," Gatto said.

Gatto attended St. Augustine thinking he would work toward playing college football. He was the starting varsity quarterback as a freshman and sophomore, but gave the sport up to concentrate on baseball. He also was a basketball player for three years, but this winter, he put all his efforts toward baseball.

"I loved basketball, but I had to do it," he said.

Baseball scouts tend to like prospects who play other sports, so the fact he did well in football and basketball is another factor in Gatto's favor.

"He passes the eye test of what a prospect looks like, and he has done everything expected of a person in his position to be drafted highly," the scout said.

Scouts will continue making visits to his Hammonton home between now and the draft, and this is the part that is the most difficult. Teams will try to gauge Gatto's signability, what it will take to get him to give up that scholarship.

Gatto says all he is worried about is doing his best each time he takes the field.

It's not easy, but the fact he hasn't allowed such a pressurized situation to overwhelm him might be as impressive to the scouts as that blazing fastball that got him noticed in the first place.