Young fireballer Joe Gatto was the Angels second round pick in 2014 out of high school in New Jersey. At 6’3” and just over 200 pounds, he has the frame and upside, along with a low 90s fastball, that scouts love.
Gatto has climbed the minor league ranks slowly but steadily and was recently promoted to the high A Inland Empire 66ers, where he posted a solid 6 inning 1 run performance last Thursday.
I had the opportunity to speak with him on Friday and found him to be insightful and seemingly already in full possession of a Southern California laid back vibe. Here is the interview, I hope you enjoy it.
You had a great start last night. How are you liking the high A competition or are you still getting used to it?
“I think last night was a good step for me to get used to it.
I think that first outing I had, up in San Jose, I didn’t really know what to expect at all. I’d heard the rumors of the Cal League and stuff like that, but for me it was just my first game up here.
Nerves got to me a little up there. It is a big move, you know.
I was not going out and executing what I want to execute, I wasn’t reading the hitters. Definitely some pitches I’d like to take back, but it was definitely a great learning experience for me.
All I wanted was to take that outing, change things, and do a complete 180 with it, and have a successful one last night.”
As far as learning the hitters, are you a guy who spends a lot of time watching video or reading scouting reports? How does that work at the Single A level where there’s so much roster turnover?
“At the end of the day I think it comes down to a little bit scouting reports and mainly working with my catchers on that. We’ve got guys who have been here for a while and have seen some of these guys. But for the most part it is talking with the catchers, especially the one who caught the night before and say ‘hey, what do you got on this guy? what are they like?’
I’m on a really good page with all the catchers in the organization for the most part.
My catcher last night, Jack Kruger, has been with me since Burlington. We’re on a really good page and he knows what I like and I know what he likes. He can be back there and a lot of times we don’t even have to verbalize things we just know we’re on the same page.
When you have catchers back there that know what they’re doing and know the other team very well, it makes our jobs as pitchers much easier.”
And when you’re on the mound, how much is “here’s what I do best and this is what I’m going to do” and how much is attacking the hitters weak spots?
“I think it is definitely 50/50. You can’t be stubborn and go out and say ‘this kid might be a fastball hitter but my fastball is good enough so I’m going to throw that.’
I think there’s definitely a time and place for that, but in the same sense there’s times, like for me with my changeup, which is my third pitch. Which before this year probably wasn’t even considerable as a pitch. It is something I developed and I’m incredibly grateful for from my coaches who put faith in me.
But last night I used it in locations, times, and situations where I really wanted to get some guys, get some swings and misses just because I know that’s not this guy’s pitch, he really can’t hit it, even though its not my best. If I throw it with enough conviction behind it, it will work out in my favor and that’s something that I learned through pro ball.
At rookie ball you can get away with being stubborn and throwing fastballs or your best pitch to guys whose best pitch to hit is that. But as you move up in the game I think it is definitely 50/50. You can’t get away with what you did if you do that.
But at the same token you have to realize someone else’s best just might have your stuff beat that day.”
Have you noticed a big difference in the level of competition as you’ve climbed the ladder from instructional to rookie to low and now high A?
“Definitely. I think each year you go up its not so much guys are better hitters, I think their plate discipline is unreal as to what I’ve seen. Guys higher up are way more disciplined at the plate, they’re not just going to swing through pitches. They’re waiting for their pitch and I’m sure as you go up it just gets better and better and in the big leagues boom! Those are the guys who do it the best.
But definitely, four years into it now I definitely see how talent goes up. Not just this year, last year I struggled a little bit in lower A. I was able to hit a good reset button and get myself up here this year. Definitely you can tell the level of competition increases as the levels go up.
I did an interview with Brennon Lund a couple weeks back, not sure if you know him, but he said the difference as a hitter is there’s no pitcher coming up you can expect to hit well. As a pitcher are you now not seeing many soft spots in the lineup?
“Yeah. Lund’s a good friend of mine. He’s a great ballplayer, played with him in Burlington some this year. I missed him here, he already left for Mobile when I got here. I think he’s been good since instructs as well.
You can get away in Rookie Ball with things. And even Low A for the most part 1 through 4 are the best guys and then 5 through 9 you can kind of just breeze through.
What I’ve noticed up here is 1 through 9 there might be one or two guys you can get away with not executing your best stuff but I’m sure as you go up with most guys you better be executing your stuff or its not gonna work out for you.”
Nice. The Angels farm system is climbing up the ranks due to guys like you, Lund, Jones, and Adell. Are you guys pretty close as a group or do you have any good friends among the other prospects?
“Absolutely! When you play good as a team everyone has good vibes. As for me I’ve been to pretty much every level twice and this is my fourth year so I kind of get a mix of guys who have been at Single A, Double A, up to the big leagues like Keynan Middleton who I played with my first year in 2014.
I have a great relationship with all those guys. The guys from my draft class are my best friends.
Because of my age and my development path I was able to make friends with the new draft guys of 15 and 16, even met some of the guys from this year, 17, in Burlington.
That’s one thing I do like about the path I’ve taken, I’ve had the opportunity to branch out with a bunch of guys and meet everyone as the years come in. I think that’s the most important thing. Its definitely playing baseball and trying to get to the next level. It is a job at the end of the day. It is also your lifestyle. You have to make good connections along the way.
I think that’s the best thing about pro ball: you meet guys from all over. I’m from New Jersey and I have friends who live in California, Texas, Florida, all over. I think that’s one of the most important things, just to become friends and make good relationships for the future.”
Obviously being you being from New Jersey does every single interview ask you a question about how well you know Mike Trout?
“Ah, I get it here and there. I know his brother-in-law Aaron a little bit more, I played against him in high school for two years and Aaron’s brother for another two.
I know Mike decently. Being around draft time at that time was really cool for me. The first guy really out of New Jersey that early.
I got drafted, it happened to be the Angels and that was a good time. I got to see him a little bit this off season. He had a golf fundraiser I attended.
Regardless of who you are or whatever status you’re in baseball Mike’s a great dude and always makes sure he’ll reach out and act like a normal person.”
Being from New Jersey, how important were showcase games, Perfect Game, etc. to you in getting you the exposure you needed to get drafted, especially as high as you did?
“Huge and it’s funny you mention that I had a talk about it yesterday. My first game of my senior year was April 1st and my last game was May 24th. So obviously we had less than two months to try and showcase myself in high school.
For guys up north I think baseball is getting better, and I think a lot of it has to do with Mike. Before then I think a lot of teams would pass up on guys from New Jersey. Guys we’re looking at now you got your Mike Trout, your Porcellos, your Fraziers, guys from Jersey that are not only competing in MLB but are All Stars and doing big things. That’s helped guys like us a lot.
But travel ball is huge. You have to at this point. High school season is so short up there and you don’t get the best weather. Weather permitting you might not get that much time, so travel ball is huge. Getting your name out there and kind of going through that whole process was a lot but in the long run it is definitely what’s needed up north.
But we’re definitely getting a lot more looks than a couple years ago.”
Before moving to the 66ers had you spent much time in California?
“I’ve come to California for just typical high school baseball stuff. I got to play a little bit in San Diego, a little bit in Long Beach. I came out to Anaheim when I was first drafted and obviously San Bernardino now.
The only times I’ve been out here is for baseball. I got to see the Bay Area a little bit, it’s definitely a nice place. Baseball takes me all over the place so bringing me to California a couple times kinda got me prepared for what it takes living out here now.”
Any crazy minor league story you can share with us without getting yourself or some buddies in trouble?
“Ha, not really. I got to think. We did have a couple weird ones this year. We were driving though the middle of the night and a bird hit our windshield and completely blew that thing up. That was one of those things you never wanted to see.
We were in Indianapolis and I guess the only way to get out was to go around Indianapolis in a huge loop so I guess our driver kind of took some back roads so then we ended up going down some one way streets and it was just a mess.
Other than that, its really not much. Just long bus rides and knocking out. I don’t really have any crazy ones. I know some guys got some crazy ones but in pro ball I don’t have any crazy bus ride stories or anything like that.”
Are you a big social media guy and if so, how can fans follow you?
“I am and I have both Twitter and Instagram and my following is @jgatt33"
Hugely controversial topic, especially to those of us out in California. Have you eaten at In-N-Out Burger”
“Yes, I have.”
Have you eaten at Five Guys?
“Definitely eaten at Five Guys. Oh man, you’re putting me on the spot here.”
So, which one is better?
“Alright. Well I’m going to apologize now for all the California fans I have but I’m going to have to go with Five Guys.”
Lastly, as you climb the ranks on your way to Anaheim, is there anything in general or particular you’d like fans to know about you as they follow you?
“No. Just trying to take every day for what is is, learn from my mistakes, work hard, and as you said the ultimate goal is to get to Anaheim. I’m just going to do everything I have to do whether its changing things up or what, just doing what I need to go to get there. That’s the most important thing.
I think it comes to a point where its not about how you get there its just getting there. In the long run that’s the most important thing.
That’s the goal right now and I’m looking forward to it.”
Thank you Joe. I really appreciate your time and really enjoyed it.
I really went into this interview knowing just bits and pieces and was thrilled at how in depth Gatto went to answer questions. I hope you enjoyed reading it.
As always, please leave comments and questions below. Gatto will see this.