High Class A Report

Gallardo continues rise toward Milwaukee





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Father’s Day weekend was Florida State League all-star game weekend, and Yovani Gallardo’s 2006 has been good enough that he got to celebrate both.

The all-star game was one day before Father’s Day, Gallardo’s first as a dad. He spent the day with his wife Patricia and son Yovani Jr., but he wasn’t exactly in control.

“He was crawling all over the place,” Yovani Sr. said of his 10-month-old. “He’s trying to walk, trying to talk. He’s happy all the time, that’s the best thing right now.”

The Brewers have to be happy with the older Gallardo, whose steady climb has helped him emerge as one of the minors’ best pitching prospects and earned the native of Mexico a spot on the World roster for the Futures Game. Brewers officials say Gallardo simply has built on his strong finish to the 2005 season, his first full season in pro ball, when he went 8-3, 2.74 and posted a 1.80 ERA over his final 60 innings with low Class A West Virginia.

He pitched his way to the FSL all-star game with consistently dominant performances in the first half of the season for high Class A Brevard County. It took a poor outing in his first post-break start (a season-low 4 2/3 innings, two runs) to push his ERA above 2.00, and his 103 strikeouts ranked second overall in the minor leagues. His three strikeouts in that shortened outing dropped him to 11.94 strikeouts per nine innings, third in the minors behind teammate Mark Rogers and Triple-A Iowa’s Rich Hill.

Still, he was 6-3, 2.09 in 78 innings and had allowed just 54 hits and 23 walks, good enough to earn him a promotion to Double-A Huntsville soon after the FSL all-star weekend.

Gallardo had six teammates on the all-star team for the East and threw a scoreless inning in the game, fanning one. Rogers, a first-rounder in 2004 when the Brewers picked Gallardo in the second round, might have a higher ceiling, but Gallardo has proved the steadier of the two to this point.

“Rogers is really coming around and is throwing very, very well right now,” said pitching coach Fred Dabney, noting Rogers’ first three June starts (0.44 ERA, 29 strikeouts in 21 innings). “They have some differences and young pitchers sometimes develop at different times. Yovani is really polished in his delivery, his release point, his feel for his release point and his ability to repeat his delivery, and that’s why he is having the success he’s had this year.

“But they are both super-bright kids, they are both mature and they are both a joy to work with. They have tremendous talent, and they also have tremendous aptitude.”

Contrast In Styles

Rogers and Gallardo have significantly different backgrounds, as Rogers was a multi-sport star as a prep in cold-weather Maine. Gallardo’s family moved to the United States from La Piedad, a town in the southwest Mexican state of Michoacan, when he was 4 years old. He has resident status, having lived most of his life in the Fort Worth, Texas, area. However, the former Texas Christian recruit doesn’t have a problem with playing for the World team in Pittsburgh.

“Some guys have asked me about that, but just being there is a pretty good goal,” Gallardo said. “I guess it doesn’t really matter to me. I was born in Mexico, but I was raised here in the U.S. Because it’s just an exhibition game, it doesn’t really seem like a big deal. It’s not like the World Baseball Classic or something.”

Gallardo and Rogers have become the focus of the organization’s attempts to develop homegrown pitchers to complement their drafted-and-developed impact hitters, such as Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Bill Hall and Rickie Weeks. While Gallardo won’t even call their relationship a friendly competition, he says the two are trying to help each other do what it takes to keep moving toward Milwaukee.

“Ever since we knew each other, we’ve been close friends,” Gallardo said. “We help each other out a lot. We don’t compete at all, but we push each other and try to make each other better.”

Gallardo grew up with baseball, playing with his father and uncles in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in weekend leagues. “I’m lucky,” he said. “Both sides of my family enjoy baseball. Most of my dad’s brothers still play in Sunday leagues around Fort Worth, and I played a couple of years with my dad. I just was always playing, all year round.”

Smooth It Out

That familiarity has helped Gallardo develop smooth mechanics that he repeats easily, giving him excellent control of his four-pitch mix. His 89-93 mph fastball has arm-side run, and he has shown an ability to spot it to both sides of the plate. His slider has developed into his out pitch, though at times he elevates it when he doesn’t maintain his three-quarters arm slot. His changeup and curveball have improved significantly since he signed, and now he’s comfortable using any of his offspeed offerings in fastball counts.

“His curveball can be an out pitch at times,” said Jim Rooney, the Brewers’ minor league pitching coordinator. “In the past, he would go to the slider too soon at times, and his pitch selection has gotten a lot better this year.

“He’s been consistent since he got here, he’s had consistent mechanics and a mature approach with poise. But since you bring it up, his maturity level has increased since he became a father. He had a strong family foundation and always was mature for his age, but since his son was born, you can really see how he’s matured and really become very focused.”

Ever modest, Gallardo will admit his ability to focus is a strength, one that allows him to dictate the tempo, work quickly, pound the strike zone and punish hitters with his above-average command of above-average stuff.

“When hitters step out of the box, I just step off (the rubber), reset and refocus,” he said. “It would be tough to make me lose my focus.”

Events of late June proved it. It took his first Father’s Day and an imminent promotion to throw Gallardo off his game. The Brewers have no doubt he’ll reset and refocus as he moves up to Double-A.



CALIFORNIA DREAMING

• After plenty of phone calls and deliberations, the California League finally settled on a Southern Division first-half champ. The confusion started when the High Desert Mavericks won their ninth straight game on June 18 to give them a half-game lead over Inland Empire, which had one more first-half game to play on the next day. But here’s where it gets tricky: the 66ers’ final game was against High Desert--it counted as the first game of the second half for the Mavericks but as the last game of the first half for Inland Empire.

Confused yet? You should be, as even the California League president Joe Gagliardi, was left scratching his head. According to the Victorville (Calif.) Daily Times, Gagliardi was made aware of the schedule discrepancy four days before the first half ended. Making things more complicated, the league’s first tiebreaker is to use the first game the two teams play against each other in the second half to determine the champ. That’s hard to decide when one team is playing a second-half game, and the other is still in the first half.

The two teams wound end up tied for the second tiebreaker--head-to-head record. So Gagliardi planned to use the third tiebreaker--division record--to determine the first-half champ. On June 19, the league called the Mavericks and told them that they had won the first half. But two hours later, the league reversed its decision. After a call to the Minor League Baseball office, it was determined that if Inland Empire won the June 19 game (their last game of the first half), the two teams would use the Tuesday game as a tiebreaker. Inland Empire won both games to claim the first-half title.

CAROLINA IN MY MIND

• Braves righthander Luis Atilano appears to be settling in at Myrtle Beach. Atilano, a first-round pick in 2003 out of a Puerto Rico high school, threw a four-hitter against Salem, allowing just one run to improve to 3-6, 5.16 on the season. Atilano took advantage of an aggressive Salem lineup, retiring the side in order in four innings and throwing fewer than 10 pitches in three of them. He struck out just two batters and walked just one, allowing him to keep his pitch count down.

“I thought they were going to take me out, but they let me stay in,” Atilano told the Roaknoke (Va.) Times. “The key was throwing few pitches per inning, I made them hit the ball early.”

It was the third straight quality start for the 21-year-old, who had five good starts in his last six outings since a rocky patch in mid-May when he was roughed up for 21 earned runs in 13 innings over three outings. He had just 34 strikeouts in 82 innings on the season, but he has shown improved command of his low-90s fastball of late.

“I was throwing fastballs to good spots and they were missing,” Atilano told the paper.

POSTCARDS FROM FLORIDA

• You might expect the Florida State League all-star game to come down to pitching. And over the first six innings, that proved to be the case, as 12 pitchers limited opposing batters to just one run each before the West finally emerged for a 7-4 win at Joker Marchant Stadium in Lakeland, Fla.

Starring on the mound for the West was Twins righthander Kevin Slowey, who whiffed the side on nine pitches in his only inning of work. Reds righthander Homer Bailey followed up Slowey by also striking out the side in the second inning. Those two performances set the tone, as 10 West pitchers combined to strike out 15 in all.

Lakeland outfielder Jeff Frazier wowed the hometown fans, hitting a two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth off St. Lucie righthander Jose Sanchez. The Tigers’ third-round pick in 2004 out of Rutgers was named the game’s MVP.

Contributing: J.J. Cooper, Chris Kline.

Compiled by Aaron Fitt