June 2, 2015
The Situation: Fans of the Texas Rangers held their collective breath when Adrian Beltre came out of the game on Sunday after a hard slide into second base. That turned to a mixture of sadness and rampant speculation when it was announced that Beltre would miss at least two weeks with a thumb sprain and laceration, opening the door for a replacement third baseman. The organization has multiple options at the hot corner, but many minds immediately jumped to top prospect Joey Gallo, who has crushed Double-A pitching this year, to the tune of a .314/.425/.636 line, with a strikeout rate of 33.6 percent. So rather than recall Rougned Odor to man second base, while shifting either Adam Rosales or Hanser Alberto over to third, the Rangers have decided to make a splash with their empty 40-man roster spot.
Background: The Las Vegas native was drafted 39th overall by the Rangers in 2012 and immediately started showing off his prodigious power by breaking the Arizona League’s all-time home run record. His first full season showed highlighted both Gallo’s potential and risk in spades, as he hit 40 home runs for Low-A Hickory, but also struck out 172 times in 111 games, while hitting just .214 on the season. His next 40-homer campaign came with more aplomb, as his strikeout rate dropped 11 percentage points in his time at High-A (before ballooning back up to nearly 40 percent again after a mid-season promotion).
Gallo entered 2015 as the Rangers’ top prospect, and in the 15th slot in our Top 101. The left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing third baseman was expected to split the season between Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Round Rock, with the possibility of a September stop under the brighter lights of Arlington.
Scouting Report: The 80-grade power is what really sets Gallo apart from the competition, but the lefty has an innate athleticism that has allowed him to not only stay at third base, but also add left field to his defensive resume. In the field, he certainly won’t be confused for Adrian Beltre, but a quick reaction time and decent first step allows Gallo to make plays on hard hit balls and charge in on bunts better than his frame would suggest.
Now, to the hitting, which is what we’re all here for.
That’s what happens to a ball when Gallo can get his arms extended, but even that’s not necessary for him to sail a ball over the fence. Gallo can and will hit to the opposite field, even though most of his successful contact ends up on the right side of the field. So far in 2015, when Gallo puts the ball into play, he’s hitting .528 and slugging 1.069 (those numbers balloon to .647 and 1.392, respectively, when his ground balls are extracted).
The high-end velocity off the bat allows him to compensate for the scary swing-and-miss rate, and makes him a fairly distinctive hitting prospect. That swing-and-miss has always been a big part of Gallo’s game, and the length of his natural swing makes it harder for him to make in-swing adjustments to pitches, something likely to be exploited by these advanced pitchers. While strikeouts have been and always will be a part of Gallo’s game, he’s shown the ability to take his fair share of walks, as well.
For all the fanfare around his loudest tool, Gallo still has another in the plus to plus-plus range. Reportedly touching 95 MPH off the mound in high school, Gallo can make any throw from the hot corner with ease, and recorded an outfield assist in his first game in left field, throwing out an unsuspecting runner from the warning track. And while Gallo is not particularly quick down the line, he’s plenty quick enough to play a corner outfield position, and repetition over time should bring smoother routes in the future.
Immediate Big League Future: Gallo could hit .150/.300/.350 in this short sample, but if he gets just one pitch in his wheelhouse, all those numbers will be forgotten in an instant. The Rangers don’t expect him to be a fixture at third base right now, and certainly doesn’t have to be, as he will reportedly head to Triple-A when Beltre returns. This call up is simply a taste of the future, both for Gallo and eager Rangers fans. –Kate Morrison
Fantasy Impact: The easy analysis of Gallo hitting the major leagues from a fantasy perspective is just an elongated gasp. Unfortunately, the real gasping should be saved for 2016, when Gallo is likely to be more of an impactful player. With a seeming expiration to his current usefulness, these next few weeks will serve as a reminder of why dynasty leaguers are both extremely excited and terrified about Gallo’s future.
The likelihood of Gallo getting 300 at bats this season is quite small—I’d likely peg it at about 5-10 percent right now. The only realistic way that would happen at this point is if he hits very well in his short stint and one of the Rangers’ oft-injured corner outfielders, or Mitch Moreland, finds their way onto the disabled list. If everyone’s healthy, he’s in Round Rock by the end of June, at the latest. However, getting him some experience now does mean that it’s more likely he’s getting additional playing time in September. The bottom line is that if you’re expecting to get more than about 100-125 at bats from Gallo this year, you’re likely barking up the wrong tree.
However, unlike most other players who could get that sliver of playing time, Gallo could do some real damage in a short stint—in both directions, really. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit double-digit homers in that span, nor would it surprise me if he hit .150. Heck, he could do both at the same time. In the long run, Gallo still has annual 40-plus home run potential and should be an even more valuable asset in OBP leagues, where the drag on the batting average won’t both you. After all, even a version of Gallo who hits .220 can still get on base more than 30 percent of the time.
Given the potential contact struggles and short stint ahead, Gallo is likely not worth rostering right now in 12-team mixed leagues and shallower, assuming a redraft format. Anything deeper, and he’s worth using the roster spot to gamble on in the near term. In AL-only leagues, Gallo should see bids in the $12-15 range—with that price ticking up to the $15-18 range in OBP formats. That said, if you’re a team sitting in the bottom half of the standings and need a lottery ticket, this might be one of the better ones to grab. In dynasty and keeper leagues, Gallo is likely already owned, but is a worthy use of a high-end waiver priority—though I’d still have him behind both Carlos Correa and Corey Seager, both of whom are likely to see the majors in 2015. And that’s without touching whether the two big Twins’ prospects get a look this summer. –Bret Sayre
Kate Morrison is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @unlikelyfanatic