Rangers' prospect displays moon-shot skills in Friday's win
By Michael Clair
Joey Gallo can do two things unlike almost any other player:
He can crush baseballs, averaging nearly 54 HRs per 162 games in the Minor Leagues. And we saw that prodigious power on display Friday when he launched a monstrous three-run blast in an 8-5 win over Milwaukee:
He can also swing and miss more than the psychic who told you to invest heavily in geodes. In 383 Minor League games, he's struck out a whopping 568 times, and thus far in Spring Training he has six strikeouts in 14 at-bats
It's a troubling blend. While the 80-grade power is tantalizing enough to make him MLB Pipeline's ninth-best prospect overall and have Rangers fans dreaming of balls soaring across the Texas skies, the fact is that not many players have managed to succeed while whiffing over 30 percent of the time in the Minors.
Since 2011, 21 players ages 24-and-younger have received 300-plus plate appearances in either Double or Triple-A while striking out over 30 percent of the time. Despite that pool of players, they've combined to hit just 50 home runs in the Major Leagues, with Mike Olt and Javier Baez combining for over half of them. Considering that both are now struggling to find playing time, there's not a great guarantee.
But there's also reason to hope that Gallo's career will turn out more like former Ranger and new $161 million man Chris Davis rather than the likes of Brandon Wood or Dallas McPherson. It took Davis until his age-27 breakout before he ever topped a 10 percent walk rate in a full season, something that Gallo has already done throughout his Minor League career and his taste of the Majors.
Looking at their Statcast™ batted-ball profiles, the two are also very similar when making contact: In 2015, Gallo's average exit velocity was 92.2 compared to Davis' 93.1, while they both had an average batted-ball height of 47.5 feet.
Given what the Rangers watched Davis do after they traded him to Baltimore, I'm sure they'll do all they can to avoid a similar outcome. So what will the Rangers' 22-year-old slugger need to do to reach this outcome, rather than become the next cautionary tale?
Here are three suggestions:
Be More Aggressive
While Gallo's willingness to take a pitch can be a good thing -- his 4.1 pitches per plate appearance would have tied him for ninth-most had he qualified -- Gallo may be letting too many hittable pitches go by. In 57 of his 123 plate appearances, Gallo fell behind 0-1, hitting just .093/140/.185 after that, compared to the league average of 225/.265/.344. While a low average will likely always follow the third-base prospect, he'll need to drive the good pitches when he sees them, rather than falling behind in the count when he'll be more likely to face breaking balls. Gallo was only 3-for-36 against sliders and curves in '15.
Make more contact
In his small Major League sample of 123 plate appearances, Gallo made contact on just 52.9 percent of pitches. That's eight percentage points lower than the Miguel Sano, who had the lowest contact rate for all Major League players with at least 300 plate appearances.
Far more troubling is Gallo's contact rate on pitches in the zone -- the ones he'll need to crush. Gallo's 57.5 percent rate is far behind Chris Carter, who had the lowest rate with at least 300 PAs at 72.6 percent. Part of the reason for Sano's success last year: He made contact on pitches in the zone 76.3 percent of the time.
Use the Opposite Field
While the sample size is hardly conclusive, Gallo hit balls to the opposite field just 7.8 percent of the time last season. While power hitters often don't worry much about using the opposite field, willing to sacrifice ground balls getting through an unshifted infield for the bonus of extra bases. But that extreme pull-happy approach won't cut it -- especially as pitchers learn to live only on the outside of the plate. Brian Dozier had the lowest rate of balls hit to the opposite field at just 15.6 percent and he hit just .206 with 12 HRs from July 1.
Gallo's type of power is the rare gift that tantalizes scouts, general managers and fan bases. Whether he will be able to make the necessary adjustments to put that power to work at the Major Leagues remains to be seen.
Michael Clair is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @clairbearattack. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.