Baseball – CBA Star Dalatri Signs With Cardinals
For three brilliant seasons as perhaps the best pitcher in Shore Conference history, Luca Dalatri never learned from his losses because he didn't have any to learn from.
After going 5-2 as a freshman for the Christian Brothers Academy varsity baseball team, Dalatri went 30-0 in 30 starts over the next three seasons to become the all-time leader in wins among Shore Conference pitchers.
After a charmed baseball life in Monmouth County, he was re-introduced to adversity on a baseball field in his four years at the University of North Carolina.
The road to professional baseball looks much different than Dalatri's planned route, but on Sunday, the former CBA standout signed his first professional contract when he agreed to a deal with the St. Louis Cardinals as an undrafted free agent. Aaron Fitt of D1 Baseball first reported the signing.
"All-in-all, I'm happy with the way everything worked out," Dalatri said. "At the end of the day, I'm exactly where I want to be. I have an opportunity to pitch for a great organization and I'm going to get a chance to show what I can do. I just want to stay healthy and get an opportunity and I'm fortunate to be able to say I have both of those things right now."
Dalatri's college career started in promising fashion, with the 6-foot-6 right-hander earning First-Team Freshman All-American honors as well as a Third Team All-ACC selection as the Tar Heels' Saturday starter in 2017. He finished 7-3 with a 3.34 ERA, 19 walks and 85 strikeouts in 97 innings.
The next three seasons, however, would be marred by hip and elbow injuries, with a stress reaction in his pitching elbow knocking him out of action for the shortened 2020 season. Those injuries limited Dalatri to only 59 innings over 13 starts during his sophomore and junior seasons combined. On the bright side, Dalatri was effective when able to perform, striking out 66 and walking 15 while posting a 2.74 ERA during those 59 innings.
Dalatri chronicled his struggles in a personal piece he wrote for Uncut Chapel Hill.
Pinpoint command has been a staple of Dalatri's game on the mound and at no point since he started as a freshman at CBA has that trait left him. He issued only 36 walks in 249 2/3 high-school innings, including just four in 67 innings as a senior. In his North Carolina career, Dalatri posted a walks-per-nine-inning rate of 1.96. For reference, only 13 Major League pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched in 2019 posted a walks-per-nine-innings mark below 2.00.
Dalatri said the hip injury sprung up while trying to make a mechanical adjustment early in his freshman season, during which he spent regularly taking ibuprofen while also receiving a cortisone shot to dull the pain.
The next season, he started experiencing discomfort in his pitching elbow, but the medical staff could not find anything structurally wrong. While throwing a bullpen this past winter, Dalatri felt a crack in his elbow. He had suffered a slight fracture and had a screw inserted during surgery.
While the latest injury effectively ended his college career, it finally provided an answer to question of what had been bothering him for the better part of two years and the correction only sidelined him from throwing for six weeks.
"As crazy as it sounds, the last time I pitched pain-free was the Middletown South (Shore Conference Tournament championship) game," Dalatri said, referring to his final high-school game in which he set the Shore Conference career wins record. "As a competitor, you tell yourself you can pitch through it and you just need to tough it out, but at the same time, in the back of your mind, you know something's not right."
Since being cleared to resume throwing, Dalatri has ramped up to throwing off a mound and said that he is ready to report for full duty whenever and wherever the Cardinals want to send him.
"Selfishly, quarantining has probably been the best thing to happen to me," Dalatri said. "I've always felt like I know my body better than anybody and being home has given me a chance to get back into the routine I'm comfortable with. It's the environment I'm comfortable in and it's made me realize that I still love to compete and that I can still do what I have always been able to do when I'm healthy."
Dalatri was twice selected in the 40th and final round of the MLB First-Year Player Draft. The Colorado Rockies selected him in the last round of the 2016 draft out of CBA and multiple sources said Dalatri had an offer to be drafted in the first two rounds of that draft. Dalatri confirmed that, saying the Mets made him an offer below the $1.9 million slot value of the 31st overall pick and the Phillies made an offer closer to the $1.5 million slot value of their second-round pick - 42nd overall.
Considered to be too difficult to sign away from his commitment to North Carolina after passing on that offer, he lasted until the last round, at which point the Rockies took a flier on him.
Injury concerns were the reason Dalatri lasted until the 40th round in 2019, when the Detroit Tigers made him the 1,192nd overall selection. Dalatri hoped to return to Chapel Hill to prove himself healthy but was not able to get back on the mound at the start of 2020.
The terms of the deal signed by Dalatri Sunday have not been made public. Dalatri said he was offered the maximum $20,000 by the Cardinals. Teams are limited to a $20,000 offer per undrafted free agent.
"It's really easy to have regrets, but you can't get caught up on it," Dalatri said. "I know most people look at the money, but I really don't look at it like that. Maybe it would have been different, but the way I look at it, I needed to go through what I went through to get where I am right now, which is where I wanted to be anyway. I'm going to get a chance to prove I can start in the Major Leagues and if I stay healthy and perform the way I know I'm capable of performing, then I didn't really lose anything. You make the big money once you get to the Majors and as far as I'm concerned, that goal hasn't changed."
On top of missing out on the signing bonus out of high school, Daatri did not have a chance to be drafted in this year's abbreviated draft. The 2020 First-Year Player Draft was cut from 40 rounds and more than 1,200 picks to five rounds and 160 picks this year as a cost-saving measure for team owners concerned about lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dalatri first spoke with the Cardinals the Sunday prior to the MLB Draft. Teams were prohibited from talking to prospective free agents between the end of Thursday's draft and Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
At 9:05 Sunday, Dalatri got a call with an offer on the other end of it.
"I had a pretty good feeling about it all week," Dalatri said. "You never really know for sure, but the vibe I got was that they were really interested. They (the Cardinals) wanted to see video and they said they were happy with what I sent them. So to get the call pretty much first thing this morning was a good feeling. It's makes me feel like they believe in my ability and I want to prove they made the right decision."