With the Rangers’ infield dealing with injuries to both backups and starters, it could be tempting to look at the talent at the lower levels of the minor leagues and imagine their contributions coming now, not years from now. But with top third base prospect Joey Gallo, patience is a virtue.
Joey Gallo has captured the imagination of Rangers fans nearly since the moment of his drafting, hitting an Arizona League record 18 homers in his 43-game stay there. He then struck out a ridiculous amount in his campaign with Hickory, but distracted from that by hitting 38 homers. So far this year, Gallo has not just hit 18 homers, but is only four walks away from tying his 2013 numbers, taking 44 free passes in 49 games. There has been and will be plenty written on what Gallo’s changed, what makes Gallo special, and how his bat could make an incredible impact on any team.
That bat, though, isn’t ready to make an impact on the major league team yet. It can be easy to forget that there’s a process, that even the most ready of college players make a stop in the minors first. Top Rockies prospect Jon Gray, who hit 100 mph coming out of Oklahoma, is in AA working on his changeup. Mark Appel, a coveted arm in the Astros’ system, is in extended spring getting used to pitching on a five-day schedule. One plus-level skill (for Gallo, mashing home runs) does not always warrant a quick escalation through the minor league ranks. Time on the farm is about refining other skills.
These things take time, and baseball is difficult even for the most talented of players. Crushing the Carolina League could conceivably turn into Gallo not hitting his weight in the Texas League. Pitchers could be far less likely to throw outside the zone, and will have more advanced bendy stuff, stuff that looks more reliably like it’ll be a perfect pitch to send into the stratosphere but instead flies away from the bat and into either the catcher’s or the shortstop’s glove.
In the last 10 games, Gallo’s struck out 15 times and walked 14 times, but only has five hits of any kind during that time, including one homer, his 18th. While it’s easy to look at his numbers overall and say he’s ready for a promotion to the Texas League tomorrow, slumps like this are signs that in some ways Gallo may not be ready for the more advanced pitching. The 14 walks show that pitchers aren’t really throwing Gallo pitches to hit, something that does need to be taken into consideration, but the 15 strikeouts (over 41 plate appearances) is somewhat worrying. While Gallo’s showed the ability to make adjustments, he’ll need to keep demonstrating that as the collective Carolina League tries not to up their ERA when pitching to him. If he can hit out of this slump and go back to his league-leading ways, Gallo is an excellent candidate for a mid-season promotion, where he would become one of the youngest players in Double-A.
With Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas both taking serious at-bats in the major leagues at ages 20 and 21, it can be easy to forget what a normal minor league stay looks like. Even if Gallo were to not make his MLB debut until 2016, he’ll still be only 22 years old, an age at which many prospects are just seeing Double-A. Fortunately for Rangers fans, this front office doesn’t hold prospects in the minors just to keep contract control, so when the evaluators decide he’s ready to contribute, it’s almost certain he’ll get that chance.