I have witnessed two Joey Gallo plate appearances in person. Just two. It was his second game in Frisco, the night after he ended his first Double-A game with a walk-off home run. I was late to arrive that night, and had already missed a Gallo home run and double. Those would be all the fireworks he would create, as instead of witnessing his full power display, I watched as Corpus Christi pitchers avoided him the rest of the night and issued Gallo his first two Double-A bases on balls.
Those two plate appearances weren’t very interesting, but even seeing Gallo on the field, he stood out. Though he is a 20-year old in a league that has an average age of 24, his size and the athleticism he displays to make fluid baseball motions makes him look advanced among his peers.
Today, Gallo has possibly never looked more advanced among his peers, following his appearance in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday as the kick-off event to the MLB All-Star festivities at Target Field in Minnesota. Gallo took home the Futures Game MVP honors, after clobbering a two-run home run to give the USA team a 3-2 victory.
While I haven’t been able to see Gallo live as often as I would have liked to, I’ve been an admirer of his from afar, and have created a list of 10 things to love about the Rangers’ power-hitting prospect:
1. His swing and the elite power it produces
This pitch was a 95 MPH fastball that Gallo turned around at a speed much greater than that. It’s not a perfect swing from Gallo, but it’s close. You can see how he uses every bit of his 6’5” and 225 lb. frame to explode on the ball. He creates massive torque in his hips, the hands follow, the bat speed is blinding, and through it all Gallo looks under control. Elite power is tantalizing, and elite power under control is intoxicating.
2. The Joey Gallo buzz
Before the Futures Game began and before Gallo did his MVP-winning thing, reports from Minneapolis were perhaps even more glowing over his batting practice session. Overall, it was clear that for those in attendance, Gallo was the most impressive player to appear at the Futures Game.
Jim Callis, MLB.com: “Joey Gallo just put on the best BP show I've ever seen at a @FuturesGame. Or, really, anywhere. @Rangers”
Tyler Kepner, New York Times: “Joey Gallo just made Target Field look really, really small in BP. Hit the top of a truck parked behind the RF seats above the tall wall.”
Ben Badler, Baseball America: “It was the best batting practice I’ve seen in person since Josh Hamilton went bananas with 28 home runs in one round at the 2008 home run derby in Yankee Stadium.”
“Gallo’s power is one of the best shows in baseball. It’s as easy an 80 grade as you can ever throw on a young hitter’s power, the lefthanded answer to Giancarlo Stanton.”
Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus: “I think it's very close. I'm not kidding. RT @dougdirt24: @ProfessorParks Are you saying Gallo has more [power] than Stanton?”
Jayson Stark, ESPN: “One more on Joey Gallo's awesome BP show, from a scout: "If he were in that (Derby) tomorrow night, I think I'd pick him to win it." #strong”
3. His quotes
After the Futures Game on Sunday, Gallo was quoted by Jim Callis as saying “I heard I broke a windshield, and I do feel bad about that.” He hit a ball completely out of a major league stadium, and he is more concerned about the damage it caused than I am when I slice a golf ball off the 12th tee into someone’s back yard.
Last month, the late Richard Durrett did an excellent piece on Joey Gallo for ESPN. The entire piece is excellent, and worth multiple reads, but my favorite quote in it is when Gallo discussed his 2013 season, when he struck out 165 times in 392 at-bats in Low-A Hickory:
“I wanted to lead the minor leagues [in home runs],” Gallo said. “I was 19. I was kind of young, and it was like, ‘Oh, that’d be cool.’ But now I just want to develop and just turn into a good major leaguer. I don’t care about the stats too much right now. I just want to continue to develop.”
At the ripe-old age of 20, Gallo has gained enough perspective to look back on his more rambunctious youth all of one year ago and recognize his immaturity.
4. His flaws
Gallo still strikes out a lot (now up to 49 strikeouts in 116 plate appearances in Double-A). He’s not a perfect player, but that’s also part of why he is so interesting. Ben Lindbergh did an article about Gallo’s unusual place in minor league statistical history for Grantland last month. Essentially, Gallo draws Giancarlo Stanton comps in terms of his power. But he also is comparable to former Braves’ prospect Cody Johnson, who you probably don’t remember because he never made it to the big leagues because he couldn’t consistently make contact.
Even compared to high-strikeout MLB sluggers like Adam Dunn and Chris Carter, Gallo strikes out far more in the minors than they ever did. It’s not normal for Gallo to strike out as much as he does, and doesn’t bode well for his future success. But his power is also not normal. That paradox makes him a fascinating case, no matter what direction his career goes.
5. He is making adjustments
Ryan Parker, the Baseball Prospectus swing guru, broke down Gallo’s swing in detail and the evolutionary path it has gone on since Gallo ever came on the scene. Gallo has progressed to a quieter and quieter swing, even since Parker saw him in Spring Training, while maintaining the same power. It is those kinds of adjustments that vaulted Gallo from BP’s #95 prospect before the season to #11 on its midseason top 50 prospects list.
Gallo is having to make adjustments in Double-A now, just as he had to in High-A this season. He’s having to work around better and smarter pitches exploiting his weaknesses while staying away from his strengths. If he continues to have the kind of success he has had to this point in his career, it’s a challenge he’ll face for a long time to come.
6. He’s working on other parts of his game
One of the adjustments Gallo has made is to learn that he can beat defensive shifts with extra defenders on Gallo’s pull side by pushing bunts down the third base line. Gallo has already done this twice since joining Frisco. At every level, defensive shifts are becoming more popular and more aggressive. Learning the weapon the bunt can be to neutralize these shifts is a canny move, and will serve Gallo well in the long run.
Ever since being drafted, there has been an underlying expectation that Gallo will one day move off of third base, but I wouldn’t tell Gallo that. Reports are that he is working very hard on his third base defense, even learning to take some velocity off his throws to improve accuracy.
7. His arm
One of the reasons Gallo has had to reduce velocity is because his arm may match his power with an 80 grade as well. In the Durrett piece mentioned above, Durrett said, “one scout claimed Gallo threw a 100 mph pitch to get his high school team into the state championship.” However, Gallo was so adamant on being a hitter that on his draft day in 2012 ESPN noted that while in high school he wouldn’t tell scouts when he was scheduled to pitch.
Now, that arm is in his tool bag at third base, or if one day he lands in right field it wouldn’t hurt there, either.
8. His workout companions
In this past offseason, Gallo spent time working out with Jason Giambi (440 career home runs) and Troy Tulowitzki (National league MVP candidate), getting hitting tips and fielding footwork instruction from a couple of MLB All-Stars. Gallo also used to play youth ball with Bryce Harper, and his first hitting coach was Chicago Cubs’ top prospect Kris Bryant’s father. He has had some grooming, and he hasn’t squandered his opportunities.
9. His growing wake of accomplishments
After winning the MLB Futures Game MVP on Sunday, Gallo said, “this is definitely my most memorable home run.” It is but one more accomplishment to throw on the stack Gallo has already accumulated in his young life. It will find company with:
- Setting a Rookie-level Arizona League record with 18 home runs the same year he was a supplemental first-round draft pick in 2012.
- Leading the minor leagues with 40 dingers in 2013.
- Leading the High-A Carolina League in homers this year (still) with 21.
- Hitting a walk-off home run in his Double-A debut.
- Being tied for the lead on the Frisco club with 10 homers this year despite just 27 games at the level.
10. He has not yet found a stage that is too big
Just as he did on Sunday, Gallo seems to be one of those players who has a knack for rising to an occasion. He was given a superstar’s greeting at the airport being met by fans and autograph hounds and interviewed by MLB.com’s Jonathon Mayo in the car driving away. Then he played a nationally televised game in front of 37,000 fans in a big league stadium, and put on a spectacle that observers won’t soon forget.
He hasn’t performed on the field as though he is entitled to success, instead approaching challenges head on and overcoming them. The way he has worked to adjust his swing and improve his defense, he has shown that he has great makeup, and maybe a bit of a chip on his shoulder towards the naysayers of the weaker areas of his game. And he appears to be handling all of the attention he has received this season like a professional, understanding the attraction that he is but not losing focus on the field.
Gallo struck out in his first two at-bats in the Futures Game, showing his imperfections as well. It is that dichotomy of his power and his strikeouts that gives him the potential to be wildly successful or a high minors washout, or anywhere in between.
Whether it is the inspiration to achieve his near-limitless ceiling or the fear of bottoming out at the depth of his floor, Gallo is clearly a motivated individual. For such a complex and fascinating prospect, I’m not sure we can ask for more.