If anyone is going to send a baseball into the glass windows of the apartment complex on the right side of Dr. Pepper Ballpark, it will be Joey Gallo, but not this year.
Gallo was drafted with the 39th overall pick in 2012, and nearly immediately made himself known, setting the Arizona Rookie League record for home runs with 18 in his first 43 games as a professional. Part of a talented rookie-ball group that included prospects such as Nomar Mazara and Nick Williams, Gallo’s power sets him apart. After finishing the 2012 season with short-season Spokane, where he hit an additional four homers in 16 games, Gallo began 2013 with low-A Hickory.
Let’s not bury the lead for 2013, here: Gallo hit 38 homers in 106 games with Hickory, and an additional 2 in five rehab games with the rookie team. Those 106-plus-five still don’t make up a full season, with Gallo missing 28 games entirely due to an injury. He hit .245/.334/.610 in his games with the Crawdads, including those homers and 19 doubles.
It’s not all candy-coated dreams of upper-porch homers, though. The 2013 Hickory Crawdads made a name for themselves regarding both offense and whiffs. While not the absolute worst offender, Gallo struck out 165 times, a scarily-high 37% of the time, good for second among full-time Crawdads. This, even when matched with a decent walk rate of 10.8%, does not project a full-time MLB player. His strikeout rate is exacerbated by his current inability to do much with inner-half pitches, fouling them off when he doesn’t miss them. Combined with his currently poor two-strike approach, this tendency puts Gallo in a position to strike out more often than not. The fouls are better, however, than the whiffs, which Gallo commits in excess, even against sub-par pitching. The power may be great, but if Gallo can’t put the barrel of the bat on the ball, especially if the ball is spinning, nothing exciting can happen.
It still isn’t time to throw the power completely away, despite his longer-than-they-look odds to make and stick in the major leagues. According this analysis by Fangraphs’ Nathaniel Stoltz, Gallo currently needs improvement in his swing load and accuracy, his two-strike approach, and his walk rate. Though that’s a long list of needed changes, they are far from impossible, and with the work ethic reportedly shown in Hickory, he could well make them happen. If he can bring his decent walk-rate up to a near elite level of 14% or so, and cut down on the strikeouts by 4%-5% across a season, the ability to take almost any pitch out of any park will look even better.
Though reports at the time of his drafting indicated that he was a very rough third baseman, with below-average skills, the defense he showed in the Sally League was not as bad as feared, and improved across the season. Gallo, who both pitched and hit in high school, has an arm almost as impressive as his power, but didn’t fall victim to the common low-A fault of showing it off on every play across the diamond. He’ll never be an Adrian Beltre, but if his glove continues to improve, he won’t have to compensate for his defense with his offense.
As exciting as the power is to dream on, Gallo’s long-term success will depend on being able to put that power into play. If everything goes right, he could be a superstar, a recordbreaker offensively who offers the plus of average defense at third. If the strikeouts continue to pile up, though, his future could be severely limited. The easiest, and most likely major league comparison for Gallo is Russell Branyan, who managed to have a big league career with a strikeout rate close to Gallo’s 2013 numbers. Gallo will likely spend all of 2014 with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans, working on his discipline, patience and swing against more advanced pitching. Unless he shows an extreme improvement in these area in a short amount of time, he most likely won’t see Frisco until 2015. While he is one of the most exciting prospects in the Texas system, the extreme distance between his ceiling and his floor makes him one of the least-sure bets.
Note: For a more in-depth look at Gallo, his power, and his hitting issues, I highly encourage you read the Stoltz article linked above.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.