East Coast Pro Day One: Northern Arms Intrigue

SYRACUSE, N.Y.—As the best high school players from east of the Mississippi River gathered at East Coast Pro Showcase, two Northeast arms stood out on day one. New Jersey righthander Joseph Gatto and Connecticut lefthander Willie Rios brandished the top velocities of the day, save for South Carolina righthander Grant Holmes.

Gatto, out of St. Augustine Prep in Hammonton, N.J., started for the Phillies and sat 90-94 mph though his three innings. The 6-foot-5, 215-pounder is still growing and has gained an inch in the last year, and his large frame has further room to fill out. He has an athletic, smooth and easy delivery and throws from an arm slot above three-quarters that gives him good life and sink to his fastball. Gatto gets good extension out front and the ball jumps out of his hand.

The North Carolina commit entered the showcase with a clearly defined game plan.

“The first two innings I threw nothing but fastballs,” Gatto said. “Our coach likes us to go after teams with our fastball until they show they can hit it.”

Gatto allowed a couple of base hits in the first two innings, but a few were seeing-eye ground balls that found holes.

“I know the scouts want to see the offspeed pitches so I came out in the third and threw a few curveballs,” Gatto said.

His mid-70s curveball showed the makings of a solid offering with good shape and downward break and mixed in a few low-80s changeups.

“I have always been a pitcher who relies heavily on my fastball and before my curveball was iffy and so was my changeup,” Gatto said. “But my curveball is a new pitch for me and I have been pleased with its improvement.”

Having made strides with his breaking ball and seen his velocity increase a few ticks in the last few months, Gatto identified another area of improvement after a walking a few hitters in three innings.

“I would like to improve my command because I struggled today with it,” Gatto said. “In the offseason, I will work extremely hard on my command. That's the main thing for me because I am going to live off my fastball.”

Rios, who attends St. Bernard High, Waterford, Conn., followed Gatto and sat 90-93 mph in his first inning with some gloveside run to his fastball. Rios, who has a strong, compact build at 6-feet, 180-pounds, has some deception in his delivery and throws from a three-quarter arm slot. Rios has seen a considerable velocity increase in the last year. Last summer, Rios was touching 86 mph but has gotten much stronger over the last year and was up to 94 in early-June.

Rios had a quick first inning but then issued a few walks toward the end of his outing.

“I was leaking towards the plate a little bit and was a little anxious,” Rios said. “My lower half was drifting forward too soon for my arm to be able to catch up, that's why I was missing up and in to lefties a lot. I was overcompensating for it, but when I was settled in, I stayed on the back leg longer and drive down on the mound, and that's when I was able to hit my spots.”

Rios also has feel for a mid-70s slider with two-plane break and a changeup.

“My universal go to pitch is the (change), by far,” Rios said.

Rios said that has been his out pitch for years and actually learned how to throw his changeup before he was taught how to throw his fastball properly.

Acknowledging that didn't throw as many strikes as he hoped, Rios, a student of the game, is eager to learn from his coaches this week, who are professional scouts.

“I am a sponge at this point,” Rios said. “I am learning as much as possible because this is a rare opportunity to play for scouts that are able to help your game.”

The Maryland commit is a good athlete and also shows promise as a position player. The switch-hitter has some pop to go with average speed and hit a double on Wednesday.

Both Rios and Gatto will be attending the Area Code Games next week and the Under Armour All-American Game in late August.