DALLAS - Joey Gallo had a tough 2016 for the Rangers, there’s no two ways about it. The large masher from the left side posted strong, Joey Gallo-esque numbers while spending 102 games with AAA Round Rock. In 359 at-bats he mashed 25 home runs and while, yes he did strike out plenty (150 times), he kept his batting average at a decent-for-a-power-hitter .240 and his OPS was nearly .900.
The tough part for him was the short amount of time he spent with the big club. In a role that saw him only playing occasionally and sporadically, it was…bad. His batting average started with a .0 and he struck out in two-thirds of his at bats.
After the second to last game of the 2016 season, Joey Gallo was about the only Ranger in the clubhouse not in a bubbly mood. Gallo had started the game at third base, letting Adrian Beltre spell his legs after a long season.
It was the first game action he had seen in nearly a week, and just his 17th game with the big club in 2016. If anyone was ever going to be rusty, he was going to be rusty that night and it showed. He struck out three times in as many plate appearances. His 16th, 17th and 18th of the year in his 26th, 27th and 28th at bats.
Despite a meaningless loss to the Rays that night, the team was acting like they had just clinched the division with a few games to spare and the veterans were resting, because that was the case. The newly acquired Carlos Gomez was already leading some shenanigans with some of the younger Latin players by the time the media came in.
Jeremy Jeffress and Rougned Odor were talking trash about ping pong games played before the game. Players’ kids ran around, playing ping pong and bothering their dads. Media members circled around Colby Lewis (after his last regular season start as a Ranger) and Martin Perez (the starter for the next day) and everyone was generally in good spirits about heading into the postseason.
Gallo was quietly getting ready by his locker, checking his phone, and waiting around in case some loser with a few dumb questions wanted to bother him. Lucky for him there was one loser willing to ask dumb questions. He answered them without a hint of frustration and was totally honest.
This year had been tough for him, it was almost over, and there were more important things to worry about, but he was willing to talk. He had proved repeatedly that he was better than the minor leaguers but hadn’t been able to prove it at the major league level and it was clearly wearing on him.
“Coming up here and only playing once whenever, once a week…it’s really hard for me to do. It’s tough to be ready to hit major league pitching when you don’t play that much…As a hitter, it’s different. You’re trying to find comfortability and feel.” That comfort and feel is something you hear players refer to so often and Gallo certainly looked like a player without comfort at the end of last year. He looked lost.
He acknowledged, however, that this is all a part of the process. For young players, with options remaining, this is something that was bound to happen and Gallo knows that. “You have to deal with it when you’re young, that’s how it is. You have options, they’re going to use them.” And use them they have.
Counting this year, when Gallo opened the year in the majors, Gallo has spent parts of three seasons with the big club now and he may have finally given them reason to not use another option.
Gallo is off to an impressive start in 2017. With Adrian Beltre injured, Gallo has started every game of the season at third base and has shown a markedly better approach at the plate. He's never going to win the batting title, but he’s walked 13 times in 110 plate appearances and has hit nine home runs. That is, if you want to say “hit” for what he’s doing to the baseball. Soon we may be saying that players “Gallo’d” a ball.
Gallo is doing a solid job at third base, as well. Everyone has known about his power for years but Gallo has an elite-level throwing arm and is more than capable with the glove. He’s started several slick double plays this year and made several tough plays on slow grounders – Adrian Beltre’s calling card. Add it all up, and Gallo was named the Rangers' Player of April.
Adrian Beltre is probably not going to be hurt all year but, while the trio patrolling left field to begin the year has been paired down to two, no one has jumped up and seized an everyday role just yet – and Gallo’s steady improvement could be doing just that. With a healthy Beltre, the Rangers could move Gallo to left or let him play first, at least as a platoon player, with the struggling Mike Napoli.
No matter what the rest of this year holds, it appears as though Gallo has turned a corner. Hopefully the regular playing time has boosted his confidence and shown to him that he belongs in the Major Leagues and can be effective at this level.
If Gallo keeps making contact, Rangers fans will have many years of no-doubters and funny facial expressions to look forward to.
What have been your impressions of Joey Gallo so far this year? Share your thoughts with Chris on Twitter @realchrisroland.
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