Undrafted after high school and unknown in college, ex-Sailor is making a name for himself as a pro

Former Sarasota High standout Joe Cavallaro is having a breakout season in his second year of professional baseball with three New York Mets' minor-league affiliates.

The soon-to-be 23-year-old right-handed pitcher has a 9-2 record with 2.34 earned run average with the Columbia (S.C.) Fireflies and St. Lucie Mets, along with a spot start with the Binghamton (N.Y.) Rumble Ponies.

But his path wasn't always so clear.

After a strong senior season with the Sailors but going undrafted in 2014, Cavallaro decided to attend the University of South Florida and play baseball for a coach who didn’t recruit him and couldn't pronounce his name.

Mark Kingston had replaced Lelo Prado, who recruited the right-hander out of Sarasota High, but he had trouble with the correct pronunciation of Cav-a-lar-o.

“I wouldn’t say anything because I didn’t know him and I was a freshman coming in,” Cavallaro said. “He found out from somebody else a couple of weeks later and asked me why I didn’t correct him.”

That first year at USF, Cavallaro split time as a starter and reliever. As a sophomore he worked mainly as a starter and in his junior year he worked exclusively out of the bullpen.

“I don’t really have a preference,” Cavallaro said. “I’m just doing what I’m told.

"The combination of both has helped me. It has helped my starting abilities because I know how to plan better. When you get into a crunch situation you know what to do. You still have to go out there and try to get outs."

Which he has been doing with regularity as a young professional, since being selected by the Mets in the 24th round of the 2017 MLB June Draft and receiving a reported $100,000 signing bonus.

After going 3-1 with a 2.34 earned run average last year for Kingsport (Tenn.) of the Appalachian League, Cavallaro put together an 8-2 record with a 2.09 ERA for the Fireflies, the Mets' Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.

And his climb continued.

After making an emergency spot start for Double A Binghamton, he was promoted to the St. Lucie Mets of the Advanced-A Florida State League on July 7.

He made his first FSL start at against the Charlotte Stone Crabs at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte on July 10, permitting two hits and one walk in six scoreless innings with six strikeouts in the Mets’ 5-1 victory.

“It was really fun to be back in the state, 30 minutes away from home,” said Cavallaro, who had family members in the stands. “It was fun to be back here and fun to play back home.

“The quality of the game has gotten a lot better. You can’t get away with throwing one pitch. Everybody can hit everything. Biggest thing I’ve learned is to plan at-bats and going after guys the right way.

“Also, this is a lot longer season than it was in college. You’re constantly learning how to create a routine and how to be able to take care of your body to play as many games as you need to.”

Cavallaro, who turns 23 Thursday, throws a fastball in the low-90s, two different types of sliders — his go-to pitch — and a changeup with a motion that has been described as “whippy.”

His biggest thrill so far? That would be getting picked to start for the South in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game on June 19 in Greensboro, North Carolina.

He wasn't aware of the starting assignment until the day of the game.

“They came up to me at my locker and said you’re starting. ‘How about that?’ It was an honor to do that and represent the Columbia Fireflies in that game,” said Cavallaro, who is 12-3 with a 2.34 ERA in his two seasons of professional ball. “It’s a fun game, a fun experience with a lot of good baseball players all in one place.”

He allowed two hits and one run in one inning.

All this for a guy who wasn't even selected in the 2014 MLB First-Year Player Draft, despite going 6-1 with a 1.06 ERA in his senior season for the Sailors.

“I didn’t think I was ready out of high school, to be honest," Cavallaro said. "I needed my three years of school. It was the best decision I’ve made and it’s paying off.”