By Phil Anastasia
The Los Angeles Angels struck gold the last time they selected a South Jersey baseball star from the Cape Atlantic League early in the major-league draft.
That was superstar Mike Trout out of Millville in 2009.
The Angels returned to deep South Jersey on Thursday night, grabbing St. Augustine Prep pitcher Joey Gatto with the 53rd overall pick.
"Another Jersey boy for your Halos," the Angels tweeted out shortly after the pick.
The pick was announced by former Angels pitcher Bryan Harvey at around 11:20 p.m., more than four hours into The MLB Network's live coverage of the selection process.
"South Jersey reunion," Gatto tweeted after the selection, including Trout's handle @Trouty20 in the message.
Moments later Trout tweeted back, "Congrats man. That's sick. Represent SJ."
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Gatto, a right-hander pitcher with a fastball that has touched 95 m.p.h. on the radar guns, was ranked as the No. 42 prospect by mlb.com and the No. 43 prospect by Baseball America.
A Hammonton resident who will turn 18 on June 14, Gatto must decide whether to sign with the Angels or accept a scholarship to the University of North Carolina.
The recommended bonus allotment for the 53rd pick in the draft is $1,050,600, so the Angels' offer is certain to be in that neighborhood.
Angels scouting director Ric Wilson called Gatto, "a high-ceiling right hander with really long limbs and a powerful body."
Gatto was in seventh grade five years ago when Trout was finishing his senior year at Millville. Trout was the 27th overall pick that season.
Trout rose quickly through the minor leagues and is widely regarded as the best all-around player in baseball, a two-time runner-up for the American League Most Valuable Player award at the age of 22 and the 2012 American League Rookie of the Year.
Gatto played in the same division of the same league, facing the same teams that in many cases are led by the same coaches.
Gatto was 7-1 as a senior for St. Augustine with an 0.94 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings.
Gatto also impressed scouts with his athletic ability as he batted .370 with a .455 on-base percentage and also was 11-for-11 in stolen-base attempts.
A former football quarterback and basketball player, Gatto also also was highly touted because of his tall, rangy frame.
"He's what pitchers look like," Baseball America editor John Manuel said on The MLB Network after Gatto was selected.
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