By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Joey Gallo, Third base/left field, Texas Rangers
2015 season (Minors): 87 G, 321 AB, .240 BA, 23 HR, 63 RBI, 2 SB, .862 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 36 G, 108 AB, .204 BA, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 3 SB, .717 OPS
Rangers third baseman/left fielder Joey Gallo is the No. 1 power prospect in baseball. Gallo is never going to hit .300 in the Major Leagues — he may never even hit .250 in the bigs — but he has the pop to impact the Rangers’ lineup for years to come. That will only happen, however, if he can improve his plate discipline.
Drafted out of high school in the first round in 2012, Gallo showed off his pop right away, hitting 22 homers in 59 games in his first year in the Minors. He followed that up with a 40-homer season at age 19, and a 42-homer season at 20 years old in ‘14. Following that year, he soared up the prospect rankings and many thought he could break into the big leagues last season. He did, but the results were mixed.
Gallo began the season at Double-A Frisco and hit nine homers with a .314/.425/.636 line in 34 games. When veteran third baseman Adrian Beltre hit the disabled list in early June, the Rangers decided to give their young slugger his first chance. He made his MLB debut on June 2 with an immediate statement, going 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs. Gallo looked like he fit right in with the Rangers, and after 14 games he had five homers with a .942 OPS. But he then fell into a slump, going 6-for-37 (.162) with no homers, and the Rangers decided to send him to Triple-A when they activated Josh Hamilton from the DL at the end of the month.
In his first ever stint at Triple-A Round Rock, Gallo brought the contact struggles he fell into in the Majors down with him. In 53 games he hit just .195, and while he still showed off his power (14 homers) it was a disappointing stretch. Gallo rejoined the Rangers as a September call-up but only saw sporadic action with minimal results.
There began to be legitimate concern surrounding Gallo’s future after his struggles last year, and rightfully so. But there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic. First of all, Gallo managed an OBP almost 100 points higher than his average in the bigs thanks to an impressive 12.2 walk rate. He needs to cut down on his swings at outside pitches (31.2 O-Swing%) and try to make a bit more contact (he had the highest swinging strike percentage of anyone with at least 100 plate appearances over the past five seasons, according to Fangraphs). The contact rate may not improve drastically, considering his powerful swing, but if he can lay off a few more balls here and there and work more walks, he’ll force pitchers to throw him more strikes and should be able to make more contact — and there’s no arguing that when Gallo makes contact, the ball gets hurt.
Gallo also made plenty of people feel better about his prospects this spring, as he mashed three home runs with a 1.036 OPS in Spring Training before being sent to Minor League camp. The Rangers want Gallo to get more reps at Triple-A, considering his 53-game stint last year was short and didn’t yield great results. But there also isn’t a spot for Gallo on the big league roster to start the year.
When Texas does make the call to Gallo, they want him to play every day, and right now, Beltre is still penciled in at third base. The Rangers signed Ian Desmond and will try him out in left field, and Hamilton is on his way back to the field as well. The Desmond experiment could easily fail, and Hamilton and Beltre are obviously not locks to avoid injury all year, so if Gallo gets hot at Triple-A, he’ll be able to force his way up to the bigs before long. The Rangers and Gallo hope that this time, he’ll be able to stick.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.