Baseball: Zanghi inks contract with Mets

As an all-league catcher for the Foran High baseball team, Joe Zanghi spent his scholastic career sending baseballs over the fence.

Now, after advancing on to play in college, and with his professional career set to get underway, Zanghi will be the guy toeing the rubber looking to keep the ball from leaving the park.

In late February, Zanghi, no longer a slugging catcher but currently a 6-foot-2, 230-pound starting pitcher, signed a free-agent contract with the New York Mets. On Saturday, he headed south to Port St. Lucie, Fla., home of the Mets’ spring training headquarters, to embark on his pro career.

“It’s definitely exciting,” Zanghi said. “It’s always been a dream of mine, but this is the first step.”

Back in July, it looked like Zanghi would be spending spring training in the Cactus League with the Cincinnati Reds in Goodyear, Ariz., rather than in the Grapefruit League with the Mets.

The Reds had selected Zanghi in the 24th round of the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Cumberland County College in Vineland, N.J. The hard-throwing righthander served as the de facto ace of a Dukes’ squad that went 36-9 overall, posting a 6-3 record with a 1.70 earned run average. Zanghi also notched stellar counting stats, striking out 81 batters in 63.2 innings while surrendering just 38 hits.

Impressive statistics, even more so considering he made just two pitching appearances before graduating from Foran in 2013 and three more in his previous collegiate stops at UConn and Southern New Hampshire.

“One of my buddies called to congratulate me,” said Zanghi, who wasn’t tuned in at that point of the three-day long draft. “They (the Reds) had watched me back in high school with (scouting supervisor) Lee Seras.”

A deal between Zanghi and the Reds fell through though, and he returned to Cumberland in the fall to work on his Associate degree.

His agent, Jack Toffey, then got Zanghi a workout with the Mets at Citi Field, where he threw a bullpen session in front of J. P. Ricciardi, the special assistant to Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson and former GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, as well as New York’s scouting brass.

The Mets liked what they saw from the converted catcher and offered Zanghi a contract. Ironically, Zanghi said the Mets had never extensively scouted him during his tenure in the tri-state area. However, that was before he became a full-time starting pitcher, which came only after an oblique injury suffered at Cumberland.

“I couldn’t swing, but I could throw off the mound and it didn’t bother me,” Zanghi said of the conversion. “It just clicked and I didn’t see any reason to go back.”

Spending countless innings behind the plate managing the game as a catcher also helped aid Zanghi’s rapid ascent on the mound.

“I kind of knew what to do mentally and that helped,” he said.

Zanghi credited the staff at Cumberland for helping him excel as a pitcher through their approach to the game.

“It’s the best baseball experience I have had, beside the Legion World Series,” said Zanghi, who helped Milford Post 196 reach the American Legion World Series in 2012. “It’s a great group of guys and the coaches made it fun. When it’s fun, the rest is easy.”

Now a New York Met, Zanghi knows there is still plenty of work to be done to achieve his ultimate goal of reaching the majors. If his history is any indicator, he will be up for the task.

“It’s the first step,” he said. “I still have so much to prove.”